To Win, You Have to Finish
I hadn't intended to write on this subject, but then I saw the most incredible thing happen at the Olympics and it reminded me of our industry. Let me explain.
The event is called "snowboard cross." It's sort of like motocross, except it's done on snowboards instead of motorcycles. So, picture a course made up of turns and jumps, covered with snow and ice, and with four athletes racing. Bumping is allowed, but no grabbing or pushing.
In the finals, one of the four was a young American woman, who was one of the favorites in the race. She got off to a great start. Perhaps you saw the race - it was exciting! Lots of spills and chills over this short course. The young American had pulled well ahead of the rest, and had only two jumps to make and then the gold medal would be hers. I was screaming and yelling and cheering for her. It was exciting. But then, it happened.
Unbelievably, our gold-medalist-to-be decided to show off just a bit and did a fancy move right in front of the grandstands, celebrating early. And that's when it happened: she landed badly, fell and was passed by the snowboarder who was 100 feet behind her. Our young American was able to get up and get back on the course, but finished second. I was so upset that I left the room for a minute - ugh!
This was still an accomplishment. (Heck, one athlete took such a bad spill she didn't even finish the race!) But it was not a gold medal accomplishment.
Right now you might be thinking, "Hey, Coach, what's this got to do with being a better PM?" Well, the answer is simple when you think about it.
Isn't each of our projects a bit of a "race" in its own right? We have important elements, similar to our snowboarder: get off to a good start; keep the pressure on; don't get passed; don't get complacent; don't take your eyes off of the goal; finish the race - then celebrate!
On our projects, it is important to get off to a great start. Everyone seems to be always concerned about the schedule and finishing the project on time. Realize that you have more "extra" days available to you at the start of a project than you ever do at the finish. Think about that for a minute. The best opportunity for "making up time" is often as simple as starting early, when it's possible.
You get your notice to proceed. Your contract probably says that you have to be there within a certain amount of time, sometimes five or 15 days. You get there right on time. You're feeling good. You made it.
But what would have happened had you gotten there a day or so earlier? Those are "free" days, particularly if you have been given a deadline date on the calendar. Here's a tip: you can never recapture that lost day. And if you later have a discussion with your client as to why you might not finish on time, wouldn't you like to have back those lost, free days? Of course.
But our snowboarder got a good start. She also competed strongly - just as you will, by having a competent crew on your job every day. In any competition, there's no room for lame excuses. Clients don't want to hear it; they want to see it. And that means they want to see your crew on the job every day and doing quality work. Why? Because other crews can do exactly that. Your company's credibility is at stake here, so compete strongly.
Our racer did most of what it takes to win a gold medal. Unfortunately, she lost sight of the goal, which is to win the gold. She got complacent, lost focus, got passed, and lost the race.
Now let's think about your team. It's great when you put out a good effort, do quality work, and you impress the judge (i.e., your client). And, while its terrific to impress your client at the beginning of the project by making good progress, where is it that your client really wants to be the most impressed? Where is it that the really important judging takes place? It is at the finish line.
Question: How does your team make it across the finish line? Do you keep your eyes on the goal and remain focused? Or do you start to think about other things: the next job you'll be going to, or need to start right away? Do you "cannibalize" labor, materials and equipment from one job in order to start the next?
Your project's judge sees all of this stuff. And even though your judge appreciates how you began the job and how most of it went pretty smoothly, it is at the finish line that the judge - your client - needs to be most impressed. As you crossed that line, did you still have your "A" team out there, your same foreman and good people, or have they already been moved to another job? Will this judge send you a glowing letter of recommendation and thanks?
Treat your client - even a new client - like you expect her to be a recurring and dependable source of work and referrals. Impress her, and let her impress her co-workers with how smart she was to have chosen your company. Let her boast to her friends and colleagues about how you were the best contractor she ever had and, if they had any sense at all, they'd better not consider anyone else. All because you got off the line fast, fielded a great team every day, did good work, and ran a gold medal race all the way to the finish line.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.
Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management