Learn, practice, verify and correct: a parallelism between sport and project management, letting us help by the PDCA cycle of Deming.
The week just passed was very intensive.
With two other experienced project managers we taught in two different sessions of basic Project Management for an international bank.
The courses structure was very intensive: high level of involvement of the participants, short breaks, many workshops and exercises and, last but not least, the official language was English (participants were from different European countries and only for some of them English was their mother tongue).
During those days a great number of topics, concepts, processes, methods, tools, approaches, rules were covered and the participants remained astonished and in some cases discouraged because of the huge number of things to learn.
One of my colleagues, to motivate them, remembered when they learned to drive a car and how hard was it, even if now they are able to drive, listen to music, talk to the phone, together.
It seems that it is so, because our brain hardly manages different things in one shot: actually only about 5 things and, sometimes, it is even worst because it depends about the complexity of each one.
And so, how it was possible to learn to drive?
Well, it is possible because our brain merges together different movements and actions (pushing the clutch and engaging the first gear or accelerating and releasing the clutch) into one single chunk of knowledge and after many tries and refinements, it send this “chunk” or program, to the unconscious mind. Cool, isn’t it??!?
The same happens for every thing we want to learn, we have to study it, understand it and practice it many times and….the magic happens!
My opinion is that it’s “only” a matter of willingness, faith, persistence and courage.
Learning is primarily a matter of overcoming the boundaries and the perimeters of the status quo, leaving our comfort zone: this is the reason why we must be courageous.
Secondarily, is a matter of persistence (patience) because once we have chosen to change, before any improvements will appear, some water will have to pass under the bridge.
This last statements drives us to the next pillar of the learning process: the faith. Yes we must believe that such a change will happen, even more in the most critical moments.
Let me give you another example. This one is related to the sport (I love it!).
Let’s assume you want to run you first half-marathon. Today, you are already a runner, but you never run much more that sixteen kilometers and your average time is 6 minutes per kilometer.
Your pace is a “sustainable” and slow one and you kept that pace since the very beginning of your runner career, you already tried to achieve better results by running in the way you know, but you never got them.
Probably the main reason is that you never tried to vary your training, experimenting something new. You reached your “comfort zone” (running sixteen kilometers at a sustainable pace) and your body established its status quo.
Now it’s time to shock the system putting into the pipeline some fresh air.
To activate the learning process (sport training is also a learning process) is necessary to push us out of the routine, out of our comfort zone, creating new challenges and accepting them.
Coming back to the sport example, to see real improvements is fundamental to increase the anaerobic threshold: the threshold beyond which our body start producing more lactic acid than what it is able to dispose of.
To do that, we must leave our “sustainable pace”, the “same old way” of doing things, the current status quo and we need to practice more and more and to vary our training introducing some changes.
We should start, for example, paying attention to our posture, the movements we do when we are running: feet, legs, arms and so on. This is the base, the starting point: our running style is paramount. Unnecessary movements bring to inefficiency, a correct posture means effectiveness that help us to run faster and run longer.
But it is not only a matter of “theory” it is a matter of improving performance by pushing up the anaerobic thresholds doing, for example, flat and uphill repetitions, fartlek sessions, aerobic power reinforcement sessions.
Yes I know, this is very tiring, but I can assure that the results will arrive soon.
This kind of work, helps you to achieve your objective, raising your performance and establishing a brand new and better personal status quo.
Improving our project management skills is something similar.
First of all we need the basis, the theory: we must study, understanding the basic concepts, creating relations between them, comparing the different techniques and trying to imagine the impact on our working environment.
Then, is time to decide about which area first necessitate to be practiced and improved: estimating? Planning? Communication? Risks? It is a matter of prioritization (do you remember Pareto and the 80/20 rule? See a previous post).
Yet, we must choose which practices, methods or techniques (do you remember the different running sessions?) put in place.
Finally: start practicing!
Continue even if small improvements, drive towards great results (do you know the kaizen word?)