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Project Management: A Marathon Not a Sprint

~ By Duncan Haughey

Runners taking part in a marathon

As a keen amateur athlete and chair of my local running club, I got to thinking about the similarities between running a marathon and managing a project. The more I thought about it, the more I realised they are similar; a thought process triggered by a throw away comment from my line manager, a project is a marathon, not a sprint, so what do they have in common?

Plan Your Course

Imagine a Marathon where the course has not been worked out or accurately measured. The competitors start without knowing the route or where they will finish. In the end, it's chaos with runners wandering around aimlessly, complaining it was impossible to finish the marathon successfully. Now imagine a project where the outcome is unclear, and there is no plan. Sound similar? Make sure you have agreed on a clear outcome and a detailed plan for your project.

When the Going Gets Tough - Push Through

A marathon is a significant challenge and requires a lot of dedication and fortitude. Unless you are very lucky (or talented), you are going to encounter difficulties along the way. You'll hit the 'wall'. You need to break through the wall and keep going. Similarly, projects are significant undertakings, and nobody pretends they're easy. You will encounter difficulties, but keep going.

Drive for the Finish

The last few miles of a marathon take the most effort and are quite uncomfortable. You may want to slow down or stop, but keep going - one final push will see you safely across the finishing line. The last part of a project is equally difficult. Bringing everything to a successful conclusion takes effort and application. Don't be tempted to slow down or stop, push on to the finish.

Celebrate Your Success

Crossing the finishing line of a marathon is a fantastic feeling, and the sense of achievement is great! It's the reason people come back time and again to run the iconic distance. You know it's going to hurt, but it's worth it to finish, with the sense of achievement that brings. You deserve to celebrate your success. Equally, you should celebrate your success at the end of projects. It's been a long hard road, with difficulties along the way, but you've made it. You and your team deserve time to reflect and enjoy your achievement for a short while.

In Summary

When given a project to manage:

  • Plan your course carefully;
  • Keep going when difficulties arise;
  • Drive to the finish;
  • Celebrate your success.

My line manager once told me that I'm a good project manager because I run, and running is about getting from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Perhaps she had a point.

Duncan is the veteran of ten marathons (including six London Marathons) with a personal best time of 3:01:08


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