What do the Olympics have in common with a Project?

If you are like me (and millions of others) you have been watching the SOCHI Winter Olympics.  It is exhilarating to watch women and men, who have trained for years, put their skills to the test in order to win a medal.  It makes me think about our staff and how they work every day to improve their skills so that they can help us win new projects or successfully deliver a project on time or meet client requirements.
Do you think about your staff and how they compete to win in their jobs?  Ok.. so you’re saying, the Olympics and our projects aren’t the same thing  Bruce! Well hold on and let me show you some similarities and how we can take some lessons from the Olympians.  We find the following in both the Olympics and in projects:

  1. People have differing skills and specialties. Do you recognize your staff’s talents and give them tasks suited to their discipline and skills? Or do you think everyone can do each others job?  Take some time to evaluate each person and see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
  2. There are specialized tools and equipment.  Are you providing excellent tools for your project team? Project managers need schedule tools, risk tools, resource tools, and tools to help them manage and track projects.  Software staff need editors, debuggers, configuration tools and documentation tools.  Graphics artists need graphic tools, color tools, paint tools, and pressure sensitive tablets.  You  need to assess each specialized area and make sure you are providing the right tools for gold level performance.
  3. Coaches and trainers can help shape people into winning performers.   Do you provide opportunities for people to learn and grow? Have you hired a special coach when needed? Training can greatly improve even a great performer so are you using this as a way to improve staff skills?  You can always get them a tablet reader and some good eBooks!  Try some brown bag lunch training.  Be the Coach for your team – this means being a good leader!
  4. It takes Practice Practice Practice.  Are you letting your team try to improve by practicing?  If you have a proposal team – let them do some practice drafts and try to communicate better.  If you have a software team let them practice reviewing each other’s code.  If you have a scrum team let them practice estimating.  there is always something that can be practiced in down times of the week or month.
  5. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Do you celebrate successes with your team? And do you pick them up when they fail or make mistake? There are always highs and lows – be there with your team.
  6. While there is only one gold medal, everyone tries to give their best performance. You will always have a team of performers at varying levels. And on any given day some people will excel and others will have an “off day.”  As long as your team members are giving their best, you can always reach for the Gold knowing you are doing the best your team is capable of.  And if you provide the other ingredients needed (Items 1-5)  you have a great chance of winning a medal and being on the platform!

Have you done the best you can to give your team a chance to win Gold?  You should try to develop Olympic management skills!


I have been really busy this summer with projects and proposals – hope your summer has been productive also.  In the midst of my to-do list getting bigger, I met a colleague online, Barbara Shannon, who had some great thoughts about getting management to support a project.  I have convinced her to write a post for us on the subject.  Enjoy!




“We are a war not a team. New York, Austin, Tulsa and Prague, we are each separate armies fighting to the death. We each want what we want with no regard for the business as a whole.”

This is a real quote taken from my initial interviews with a new client. Yikes! Sounds like they need a change expert, but no change readiness assessment or communication plan will put the love back in this team.

It’s CARING about and TAKING CARE of people that makes or breaks the love on a project. Take really good care of your team and your stakeholders and you will keep the love flowing right through launch and beyond. Here’s how:

You must be able to answer this one super critical question consistently in the affirmative:


I’ve often thought it would be great if businesses would pick a “Project-of-the-Year”.  Imagine just working on one project a year. A project that everyone agrees is the right project at the right time for the organization.  UNFORTUNATELY it’s rare that the whole leadership team agrees about what’s most important.

Reality is that there are always too many projects competing for too few resources and creating project ADD in the business. Here’s an example of this road to ruin:

Your project is on the MUST DO list along with 40 other projects because it is the pet idea of VP X who was just brought in to “make some positive change”. None of the other VPs believe it is a MUST DO so they don’t assign any resources to work on your project.  Once they are forced to assign resources, the people they give you know their boss is not behind the project so they are not inclined to spend much time or spread the love about your project.

And if your business leads and team members don’t love the project and don’t spend much time on it, you will surely have weak requirements, crappy coding, dirty data and missing process steps plus you can pretty much expect that the users will be uninformed and bracing for the worst when it comes time to use what you’ve built.


So what’s a project manager to do?

DON’T Just Do IT  – Put your foot down. Just Say NO! Before you commit to the project, tell the empress (project sponsor) she has no clothes.  Be the voice of reason and tell the business owners that if they are going to continue to add to your MUST DO project list, they must also agree on a STOP DOING project list. And the same goes for adding features once the project starts.

You can and should push the business leaders to get really focused about what is most important to the business and how to spend the company’s limited cash and time.

Does this sound risky to you? Well, project management is not for the faint of heart, so take a deep breath and take a stand for your sanity and for the possibility of success.  Document how many people you need and for how long and stick to it. Suggest that the leaders look at the overall project portfolio and consider cancelling or de-scoping other projects to make room for yours.

Do this at the beginning of the project. And then continue to take your stand as scope creep encroaches with every little “great idea”.  Every time the project hydra starts to grow another head, ask the business leaders to focus and choose only the most important.

Tip: It is really helpful if you can get the business leaders to agree on a short list of selection criteria that will be used to choose the top projects as well as the “must have” features.

Why This Makes the Users LOVE Your Project

Limiting the total number of projects makes a big difference and not just because focusing on just a few projects produces higher quality outcomes, but also because humans can’t focus on many things at once.  Research has proven that we actually suck at multi-tasking.  Apple does a great job of managing our limited ability to focus by offering only a few products at a time. The Apple store has only a handful of products for sale. And you can spend as much time as you want playing with them.

Imagine if we did projects this way!

Use the Apple example with your business leaders. Or stand on your head to get their attention. Remind them that they CAN do all of the projects. But the CANNOT do them all at the same time.  Business leaders know in their hearts that too many projects create diminishing returns. Someone, and it may as well be you, must help them set the stage for success by just saying no.

YOU CAN DO THIS. I’ve seen bold project managers make this case with great success. So get a credible business leader to back you up, speak with data and examples and Go For It!


This post was written by Barbara Shannon. You can find her latest ideas and change management tools on her website, greatchangebox.com.  Her consulting company is, TSG The Shannon Group, Barbara is grateful to Deloitte Consulting for teaching her how to be the “wind beneath their wings”. She is a guest lecturer at the Wharton School and has written and taught case studies for conferences, consulting firms and executive education. You can email Barbara at barbara@greatchangebox.com

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