The Secret of Mastering Your Project

I know it must come as a shock, but I recently managed to draw some parallels between my last mountain biking experience and the adventures of project management. But Michael, how can everything come back to project management for you? I don’t know. I love project management–just go with it!

Allow me to walk you through my thoughts from my latest outdoor Colorado adventure, where I realized that in order to attain real project results you must be able to see the peak through the clouds.

Golden, CO is a mountain biker’s dream, however, just like any high-elevation playground, Golden and the rest of the Colorado front-range is subject to some ornery weather patterns.

Since I like to know what’s ahead of me on any bike riding exploit, I looked at the trail to find some areas covered in thick fog. The lack of visibility didn’t leave a great feeling in my stomach, but I wasn’t about to call off my exercise because of a little fog. Besides, I could see my destination through the mist.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find it debilitating to ride in the fog. I could still make out the trail to understand where I needed to point my bike. I could have stopped plenty of times due to nerves, but I accepted the risks that the fog presented. After 30 minutes, the smoke gradually dissipated into nothingness leaving a beautiful sunny day.

As I judged that I was almost half-way through my ride, it happened. I crashed. It wasn’t an awful crash but enough of an event to bang up my left knee as I slid off the trail. My front tire caught the wrong side of a slick rock, and I found myself on the stones next to the trail. Never fear because I was prepared for this very event. My knee didn’t hurt so much as just look God-awful. I busted into my first-aid kit and grabbed a wipe to get the small pebbles out of my raw wound then I was cautiously back on the trail.

As luck would have it, as I approached the end of my ride I experienced a bang-up to my right knee. This time, it was not because of the trail. As I was going up a small hill, my rear tube popped and caused me to stop right in my tracks. The thing about stopping on a bike is that you lose your balance. The thing about losing your balance when your shoes are clipped into your pedals is that you have to unclip quickly or else you embarrassingly fall over. I couldn’t for the life of me unclip my shoes fast enough and I evened out my knee wounds with a sound scrape on my right knee.

How was this experience exactly like running a project? I’ll tell you.

I could see the destination at the outset.

This is the most important point I’ll make. I had the vision to know where I was headed.

Did I have perfect vision that day? No, there was fog. Could I see every turn that would get me to my destination? No, there were trees blocking my view. Was I naive in thinking that the ride would go smoothly? No, I packed my first-aid kit and a couple extra tubes. I knew there would be some obstacles to overcome. Experience TOLD me there would be challenges.

Using 20-20 hindsight, would I choose to go on the exact same ride and get both knees banged up again? I would definitely choose to ride the trail again but without the wounds. I’d do it again because I’d be careful in the same spot where I crashed the first time. I’d take an extra second to make sure my tires were fully inflated before huffing it up the hill at the end. See, by riding the trail once, I’ve learned parts of the trail–where to be careful, where I can speed up, and where to take a solid rest. I’ve also learned my own strengths and limitations.

As far as I’m concerned, project management and mountain biking are best friends. As you progress through your next project, please make sure you know your general destination before you begin. You’ve got to be willing to take the occasional ding, but don’t take the risk unless you know where you’re headed.