I was mountain biking the other day with someone who seemed to always be in the wrong gear. When the trail turned uphill, he wouldn’t start downshifting until he was already climbing. By then, it was too late and then he would stall out and have to hop off and push the bike. I would do what others in the group did and downshift before getting to the hill, enabling me to ride past the walking cyclist. Skillwise, this person is a better rider than me so I found it odd that I’d catch him on the hills. I took me a long time before I realized that the only real difference was that he didn’t look past his front wheel and I tend to look much farther down the trail. Idon’t have faster reaction times and I certainly wasn’t a better rider, but by looking farther ahead, I created more time to react.
So, what does this have to do with project management? I recently had near catastrophic failure on a project I was leading. Deadlines were pushed to the absolute limit and disaster was imminent. It all turned out well, but it was despite me rather than because of me. I saw the edge of the cliff and knew how close I had let my team had come to failure. The insight from the mountain bike ride the other day made me realize that I simply wasn’t looking far enough ahead. I was like the cyclist walking up the hill. I had gotten so caught up in other tasks that I didn’t take the time to look ahead. It was project management at its poorest. I was looking so close to my metaphorical front wheel that I could only react after problems or the unexpected popped up. Looking further ahead would have allowed me the space to anticipate and react much more quickly instead of scrambling and swerving at the last second.
Once again I learn a lesson that I already knew. Those are the most painful. And the most valuable.