Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > project lessons from the air

project lessons from the air

Something that they teach you when you are learning to fly are the three most useless things for a pilot; runway behind you, altitude above you and fuel left in the bowser.

Regardless of whether you are landing or taking off the more runway that you have in front of you the more options you have if something goes wrong and the more time you have to think and react. In a similar way the sky above you is useless if you have a problem because you are going to be getting nearer to terra firma every second and it tends to be a bit on the solid side, even water is like concrete if you hit it at any speed. Having height in hand gives you time to think and act.

The third factor is again about giving you options. You may have not topped up because you thought you’d enough on board, but headwinds, weather diversions and other issues can leave you running low and unless you are flying a suitably equipped military aircraft there is no refuelling in flight.

It was thinking about project management that reminded me of all this. The rapidly approaching deadline looked a bit like the end of the runway looming up, the lack of progress like the lack of altitude and inadequate resources were the fuel left behind.

One of the common problems with projects is that the go-live, or end, date is known, but projects start too late. There is always an opportunity to use all of the available time yet procrastination seems to be almost a prerequisite. Start as soon as you can and give yourself all of the runway.

Progress is often too slow at the start. Of course there is a need to accelerate from a standing start and the end date may be months away, but get a sense of urgency into the team from the start. Set enough milestones so that you can make sure that you can see whether you are on track or not. Getting ahead of track is like getting some extra altitude so that if you need to glide for a bit at some point you have something in hand.

Allocating enough resource when you need it is your fuel. Whether it is people, equipment or funding always ensure that you have enough on board from the start. Plan well and add extra for contingency because you will be certain to need it.

Running a project may not seem to have too much in common with flying, but there a lot of similarities. Both need competence and focus, both need planning, a clear idea of where you are going, how you will get there, how you know that you will be on track and the right resources to make it. Both also need you to know when you have arrived and require clear communication. If either is lacking in some department the result is likely to be a wreck.


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