February 6, 2019 Rodney Cowled
Projects are like marathons

Projects are like Marathons

A Story: The importance of stakeholder buy-in

To finish a marathon, most of us “mere mortals” need to undertake significant preparation.

Though for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re one of those perpetually-run-ready individuals, who can bang out a full marathon with little to no marathon-specific preparation.  Congratulations you’re now (magically) extremely fit. 

Now, let’s apply the same logic to world of projects, you’re now not only, incredible aerobically fit, you’re also a perpetually-project-ready individual. This isn’t your first marathon (read: project). 

You’re at the starting line ready to start your next marathon. Simultaneously you’re also in the board room ready to start your next project. 

At the track, the gun sounds and you’re off; running with the grace, ease and confidence that comes only from experience.  In the boardroom it’s a different scene entirely, something is wrong. You’ve taken off running, but you’re barely moving. You look down and there’s a ball and chain shackled to your right leg, you shrug your shoulders and notice a heavily-packed weighted vest has been dropped over your head, & what’s more you look to the distance and there’s a giant boulder in the middle of the track. 

You’re usually a perpetually-project-ready individual & just as with running, you move with ease through projects. What is going on?

You’re running a marathon (project)…but, you’re not running this race alone. 

In this marathon, you’re running alongside 100s of others, most of which are mere mortals (not magical aerobically fit and perpetually-project-ready). To make matters worse, you’ve all got to cross the finish line at the exact same moment. Who invented this sadistic joke?

Projects are high-stakes marathons, run in teams.

Looking around, you realise that the weighted vest & shackles are the work of the Head of Human Resources department. The boulder in the distance, well, that’s got the mark of a disengaged marketing manager. While the marketing manager didn’t *put* the boulder there, they also didn’t remove it, despite knowing you needed the track.  Why are they doing this to you, to your project? 

I could try and flog this “projects are high-stakes marathons” metaphor further and make up reasons, (say the Marketing Manager, doesn’t see the benefits of the project and has decided to not allocate any resources) but I already feel I’ve pushed it too far. So let’s just say “they’ve got their reasons” and look at the root cause of the issue.

Projects are high-stakes marathons, run in teams with people who don’t usually run.

The underlying problem is that most people aren’t like you; they aren’t perpetually-project-ready & marathon-fit (sorry, I was wrong, I’m not done yet). They need to prepare for a project. As project professionals, we need to prepare them for the project. 

Before the starting gun, we need to “sell in” the benefits & ultimately get buy-in from each of the stakeholders. 

Maybe we could run around the boulder, while wearing the weighted vest; we may even finish the race. But one thing is certain: it would be easier if they (I mean the restrictions, not the people) weren’t there. 

Before we start our next marathons, let’s do some preparatory training sessions. Even if we feel fit & ready, let’s get everyone marathon ready…before we start the race. 

Projects, like marathons, are already hard; don’t make them harder.