I’ve been a successful Project Manager (PM) for going on two decades now and during some of that time I worked remotely from my sailboat while continuing to lead large virtual global teams to successful launches. I get asked by team members to participate on my teams again in the future, which is probably the ultimate compliment. I’ve been asked to mentor other PM’s and run discussion forums. Recently I was asked to run a boot camp on how I run projects that succeed in spite of the many challenges we tend to encounter, and this got me to thinking about why I’m successful. I feel like my sailing and boating experience directly correlates to my success.
When living aboard and traveling, whether it is a long passage or a short one, it requires forethought. We plan the route we are taking, we plan the weather window, we provision the boat with the correct food items needed based on weather and destination. Once we set the plan, we then monitor it closely to ensure we can stick to it. Is the weather window closing or are the tides/currents going to conflict? All of this is very similar to what we do the in the PM world where we spend time discovering what we are going to do and put an initial plan in place knowing that no plan every stays stagnate, constantly needing to review and adjust based on factors that come up.
Issues always come up, no matter how well we plan, something generally goes wrong and you just hope it’s a minor issue versus a major item. The key is to plan for the unexpected and not to let the challenges consume you. Looking at the risks for a project helps you plan for how to address them if they arise. On a boat, the same is true. For engine related items, we carry spare parts like oil filters, fuel filters, and belts and now we even carry a spare prop! (Read my blog post on our recent adventure where our prop came off our boat!) Nearly everything has a solution and it’s just a matter of wrapping your head around what needs to get done and how. Negative talk really doesn’t help us get to the finish line faster, it tends to suck the energy out of the room and leads to negative consequences. Instead I like to focus on what’s attainable in my boat projects and in my work projects. Planning and perseverance is crucial.
To the inexperienced it may seem that once the sails are up, we are good to go. That’s not true and in order to maximize speed our sails require constant trimming, tuning and tweaking. Whether it’s pulling the main and jib in to take advantage of a wind puff or letting them out to adjust for wind direction changes, constant monitoring is pretty critical to efficient sailing. This is not unlike any project where a PM needs to regularly monitor the plan and tune it based on the activities and tasks that are occurring. I can’t tell you how many times we are in the thick of the work and a technical lead will mention a task that wasn’t included in the plan. Rather than freak out or worse, belittle he team member, we add it and adjust for the item...tuning the plan to support the additional new task item.
Lastly, one of the areas that tends to get forgotten is to breath, relax, enjoy the ride and have FUN. Most projects I support these days are a year or two in duration. There is always a fun way to get work done versus a grumpy way. Humor helps alleviate the stress that is ever present and helping your team find the humor, even in the crappiest of situations, can help them move forward and through the challenges. A humorous analogy, a story of overcoming obstacles during other projects or even a funny cartoon can help break the chain of stress. Additionally, taking time to step away for a bit can go a long ways towards a fresh look at the overall project and the team members. Everyone needs a little time away and it’s important to find it, even if it’s a few hours. Personally, a few hours sailing is the best rejuvenation. As we head away from shore and cell phone connectivity I can physically feel my shoulders start to settle and my body start to relax. The sun, the wind, the rhythm of the boat helps eliminate the stress that has built up.
Sailing for me is a lifelong love, just like project management is. I love leading teams to be an amazing, cohesive, working units that can complete a project against, what seems at times to be, insurmountable odds. Planning, mitigating, adjusting and perseverance mixed with a fun attitude carries me through both.
I'm the wife of the captain, a mother of three boys and a PM in the corporate world. This blog is my view of life and activities related to our boat.