The Tour de France vs Project Management

This year’s Tour de France got off to a fantastic start for Team Sky and Great Britain on Saturday, with Geraint Thomas winning the first stage in Düsseldorf.  This historic competition, with its twists and turns, has many similarities with some of the business projects which we see, and are involved in, at Nine Feet Tall.

Here are 9 lessons we can learn from the tour, which are relevant when we are planning and working on our own projects.

  1. Set your goals

When a rider begins the tour he may have the ultimate goal of winning the race, but in order to do that he will probably need to win a number of stages and stay close to the lead group throughout the event.  Set realistic goals for your project and measure whether you are keeping on track to cross the finish along the journey.

  1. Planning to succeed

Like the tour, most projects are divided into stages or phases. Once the race is underway teams meet regularly to review the plan and make adjustments. When you are managing projects it is impossible to plan in absolute detail for months or years ahead.  It makes sense to draw up an outline plan at the start for the duration of the project and build a detailed plan for the current stage. As you draw near to the end of one stage that is the time to get into the detail about how you are going to attack the next.

  1. Get kitted out

You wouldn’t begin the tour with a rusty old bike from the canal, so why do projects often kick off without getting the right resources in place?  Agree with your sponsor what you need and don’t forget to include resources beyond the go live date.  You will need time to transition into business as usual.

  1. 9 is the magic number

Every team on the tour has 9 riders, each with different skills and strengths.  Some favour the hilly stages – others are masters at the sprints.  In your project, establish who has particular knowledge and skills in which areas and let them speak up, bringing their own unique contribution to the party.

  1. The power of the team

Nothing demonstrates the power of a team like watching the Peloton cut through the city streets.  Each member takes turn to lead, the others using the slipstream to help them along.  In a long project, good teamwork is a critical element for success.  Use the power of your team to keep a strong momentum.

  1. Expect the unexpected

Bad weather, sudden illness, cycle pile ups; nobody knows better than GB’s Chris Froome, that despite meticulous planning you can never rule out a curve ball which will temporarily throw things off course. On your project if you experience a supplier going bust or an unexpected delay, the key thing is to immediately evaluate the impact and make a realistic assessment about what the best course of action is. Involve your team and don’t be shy in seeking out help if required.

  1. Continual learning

Riders know that it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, no 2 tours are the same.  Each has a different feel, different characters and highs and lows.  Even if you have worked in a particular sector for a while, each project you manage should present new challenges and opportunities.  How can you continually improve what you do?  Be inquisitive.  There is no such thing as a stupid question.  Soak up as much insight as you can from your colleagues.

  1. Dig deep to enjoy the view

It is only when you have put in all the hard effort to get to the top of the mountain that you can sit back and enjoy the panoramic vista.  When team morale is low or you are struggling to hit a deadline, don’t forget to keep them motivated.  It feels great when you have pulled together as a team to achieve something and suddenly you feel the gears shift and the finish line comes into view.

  1. Celebrate success

Don’t wait until the end of your project to celebrate with your team.  A key part of the tour is the donning of the yellow jersey after each stage of the race.  In projects it is also important to celebrate key milestones and the end of a particular phase to keep the team motivated, particularly if it is a long project.