Marathon running and project delivery in six lessons
Running enthusiast and Curium senior consultant Robbie Holden shares his thoughts on how running a marathon relates to change management.
Last year, I was away with a couple of mates for a weekend. After a five-mile walk to a pub along the coast path, we started to discuss the challenge of completing an ultra-marathon. After a few beers (as all best plans are formulated), we had signed ourselves up for a 70-mile run round the Isle of Wight.
Having completed the 26.2-mile standard marathon distance the previous year, here’s how I got myself in a position to make it to the start (and finish) line. Using the skills developed as a project manager, I came up with these six lessons from marathon running and how they relate to project delivery.
Lesson one – Set a goal
Seems obvious with something like a marathon: “I want to complete 26.2 miles,” but break that down. For me, I had to beat my wife’s time (don’t judge, we are a very competitive household!). This enabled me to build a plan to ensure I met this goal.
At the outset, it’s key to agree what the project will deliver, by when, for how much etc. This results in everyone being on the same page and prevents any confusion further down the line.
Lesson two – Listen to experts
When you start telling people you have signed up, everyone will try to give you advice, from the guy at work who never takes the stairs, to someone whose friend of a friend once ran a 10k. It’s important to focus on advice from those who have actually completed the distance before, whether via blogs or first-hand experience of friends or family members.
The chances are that for the project you are delivering, someone has been involved in something similar before. Pick their brains to find out what worked, what didn’t, and what they would have done differently. This will help you when it comes to lesson three.
Lesson three – Develop a clear plan tailored to you
A generic off-the-shelf plan wasn’t suitable to help me achieve my goal as it wouldn’t account for friends’ weddings, days away with work etc. So I had to build my own, using the advice I had received from others.
For the project plan, start with examples of similar projects or templates, but tailor yours so that it is realistic and also meets the specific demands of your project.
Lesson four – Don’t go it alone
I relied on a variety of people to help get me across the finish line: mates who cycled beside me while I completed long training runs; physios putting my body back together, or the hero who talked me through the last six miles, so I kept running.
Use your project team to help share the load, whether that is effectively delegating tasks, deploying their expertise, or simply using them as a sounding board. It will help you overcome challenges and, more importantly, keep your wellbeing in check.
Lesson 5 – Keep your commitment
Training for a marathon is tough – lots of long, dull runs at weekends. During these times, it’s important to find something to help you to pull the trainers back on. I had a motivational playlist (‘It’s My Life’ by Bon Jovi and ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem are my recommended picks!) or refocus on why you are doing it in the first place (see lesson 1!!).
It is the same with change projects, there will be times where even the best laid plans will come under stress. With your team, recognise that there is an issue, focus on how to resolve it, and find a way to keep moving forward.
Lesson 6 – Celebrate success
Keep up your momentum by celebrating milestones as you progress: for example, the first time you run for more than two hours; or when you have completed all your long training runs.
In a project perspective, this could be when the design is signed off, or the pilot is successful. By celebrating milestones, you highlight the progress being made and sustain motivation.
These are my six lessons linking marathon running and project delivery. To end the story, we completed the ultra-marathon (never again!). We’ll see what plans we come up next time we have a ‘few’ beers!