5 MIN READ
Why running a project is like riding a motorcycle
As a RoSPA accredited advanced motorcycling tutor in my spare time, I’m regularly faced with explaining aspects of riding, driving and roadcraft. To apply these facts and techniques I try and associate them with everyday tasks or areas of work that are relevant to my associates.
How should we ride or drive like we run a project?
I tell my associates they should have a riding plan. They often look puzzled…
The plan is not the route or the timescales or the destination, but a constantly changing plan of position, speed, gear and throttle setting based on the information available to you: what you can see, what you can’t see and what you can reasonably expect to happen. You should always have a contingency plan (or two).
I think that, on the road, information is paramount to safety and enjoyment. Any lapse in concentration is a break in the information you have to work with. You cannot run a project without the necessary information.
Key deliverables, deadlines, objectives, and supporting information (specifications, budget, designs, requirements, risks, etc.) are necessary aspects of a project that provide the basis of information required. Any or all of these will likely change or evolve, but the ultimate goal is to deliver the project or phase on time and in budget.
The same can be said for the drive. You have a destination and an ETA as your prerequisite goal and your information is the weather conditions, traffic, hazards, road signs and markings, etc. which are ever evolving and changing. We deal with risks in a project by grading them – some we dismiss as low severity and highly unlikely, for others we spend a great deal of time and effort to ensure they are mitigated to the nth degree. On the road I would probably not react to the former and for the latter, which cannot be ignored, I would change my speed and position, giving it as wide a berth as possible without putting myself or other road users in further danger.
When riding or driving, when all you can see is the van in front, you have no idea what the road ahead has in store – you can only react to the actions of the van driver. By giving yourself a bit of distance and increasing your field of view, you can see the broader picture. You have the space and time to make proactive decisions and not reactive decisions.
It’s important to keep a broad picture of a project, to understand what’s going on with all aspects of it at all times. When one gets too focussed on a single aspect and loses sight of the rest of the project for even a short period, things can go unnoticed elsewhere and bring the project to an abrupt halt, albeit short.
When a project has changed its course and looks like it may run over time or budget, there are difficult decisions to be made. Do we ask for more money, time, or do we rush to the end and possibly under-deliver? We could ask and receive a negative answer.
There are certainly areas of projects where time can be reduced without ill effect, but often there are key areas which must be explored fully. On our journey, when held up and in fear of being late, we must remember what the trade-offs are.
Rushing leads to mistakes – we can speed things up, but remember to use speed appropriately in areas of low risk. By taking our time in planning, giving ourselves space to manoeuvre and information of the road ahead, we can often save time and if not, at least arrive safely.
As my grandmother often told my grandfather, “It’s better to be late than dead on time!”
Jon has worked exclusively in mechanical design and prototyping for many companies, being responsible for the design of a wide variety of equipment and devices. Prior to joining Team he was an associate mechanical designer for 20 years, and has 10 years’ manufacturing experience working as a designer and a supplier.