IT Project Management is like a Half Marathon…

I completed the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 6th. I finished 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 44 minutes.

I’ve been working on two major events in the past couple weeks. One was training to complete the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The second event is a webinar titled All Aboard! Avoiding Tech Project Derailments which I am presenting for NTEN. While the two things may not appear to have anything to do with each other, a lot of the things that I have done while preparing for the Half Marathon do apply to my experiences with  managing an technology-based project.

First, how many people sign up to run a half marathon and then proceed to do no training? I’m sure that there are some. I’m sure that there are even some people who manage to finish the half marathon without training. I can’t. I had to start out with baby steps, increasing from my reliable 3.2 miles to 5 miles and then to 9 miles (with a Nike+ sensor that wasn’t always showing the right mileage). 

The same sort of philosophy being applied to technology projects is advisable.  I  had the luck of starting out at my agency as an intern many moons ago. While an intern, the biggest project that I had to manage was related to a community art gallery that ran in our headquarters building.  The art openings would be a success or not with how much work I did. Quickly I learned that it wasn’t about finding the artists. Most of the work revolved around dealing with getting the artist to meet deadlines while it also meant completing the advertising for those art opening to our staff. To be successful, I learned how each artist required different things from me while I learned how frequently I must remind the staff of upcoming events, warnings of deadlines, and how the majority of them preferred to be kept informed.

From those starts in orchestrating art openings, I took on responsibilities for parts of projects. The first one was the installation of the first network for the agency. During that experience I was able to observe how those individuals in charge handled the multiple aspects of the project and how things that seemingly didn’t interact with each other were critical to the completing of the network.

Large technology projects can qualify as marathons. While we would love to wave that magic wand and break the course record, for most runners it is about simply crossing the finish line. They sometimes take on a nature that they weren’t intended. You are looking for the mile markers and not finding them. If you have had the ability to do some previous projects in your organization, you can fall back on your training.

You know how to communicate with the individuals involved. You may know that there are these three people who need to be reminded daily of their tasks that need to be done while there are ten other people who only need to be given a warning that a deadline is pending. There is some internal knowledge that you have of how to communicate where things are – if you have to celebrate every little success, or just celebrate the large successes.

I couldn’t have finished that half marathon without having those training runs. I also know that I couldn’t have finished some of the most recent technology projects, such as relocating our data center and creating a customized application for three departments, without having those first small projects – even ones that had nothing to do with technology.

Now that I’ve completed one race, I’m looking forward to completing the materials for the webinar All Aboard! Avoiding Tech Project Derailments which I’ll be presenting on Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012 at 11:00am US/Pacific. I’m pulling together my experiences with my own technology projects to help others who may be looking for some training on what to do. I also look forward to hearing from others about what type of information they seek about technology project management – so if it isn’t something that I’ve included, maybe I can.