Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots - but you have to play the ball where it lies. - Bobby Jones
Over the summer, I started learning how to play golf. The decision to take up the sport didn’t come lightly. I come from a family of (very good) golfers and I knew the scrutiny of my burgeoning skills was going to be intense. I went about things thoroughly: I found a golf pro to learn from, was fit for a proper set of clubs, carefully researched the necessary accessories and dove in. I was ready to take on the game, never imagining how much playing golf would teach me about my work as a project manager.
My golf coach, Alex, imparted many pearls of golf wisdom during our lessons that struck me as being true about my role in project management at Cantina as well. Some of the insights pushed me to re-examine my approach to how I was managing my projects and the advice I would give to other PMs when discussing issues.
A golfer should create a setup routine based on fundamentals that become second nature. This approach sets them up for success every time they approach their next shot, regardless of distance, lie or weather.
Project managers and golfers who create a solid mental checklist of essentials to work through can figure out where they’re going wrong faster and how to make corrections. As this checklist grows, getting ahead of things before they become issues starts to be easier as well.
When the equipment for you is right, and posture, stance and grip gets nailed down, everything starts to come together. Sometimes, you spend a lot of money on equipment and sometimes you only need the basics - everybody is different.
Depending on the nature of the project, the client or your own team, you may need a suite of tools or perhaps only the most basic to be successful. Be smart about what you select and how you use it, because if you’re caught up in managing the tools, you’re often taking your eye off the work itself and that’s when things can go wrong. Software won’t fix bad delivery.
There are so many variables to golf: physical changes or injuries, new or old gear, weather, difficulty of a course or making adjustments that work against you instead of for you. Always remember: golf is a game you can never master, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
I’m not sure anybody can truly master project management, either. Golfers are constantly adjusting to new courses or even subtle changes to the courses they play often. Project managers will always have to navigate through change in whatever they are working on, too. No project is ever a true a carbon copy of another. I recently took over responsibility for managing an e-commerce web and mobile project that was already well under way. For a brief moment, I was a little overwhelmed, as there were just so many nuances and client-specific details to assume responsibility for in a short period of time. I put that quickly behind me by returning to what I had learned in my golf lessons: go back to my foundation, walk through my mental checklist which helped me to ask the right questions and find the project details I needed to fill in the blanks. I also made a point to reach out to the client and meet them quickly to establish a new relationship. I felt more confident about what I was doing. My ramp up time was cut down significantly and I felt I could make contributions right away.
Becoming a good golfer and a great project manager is about developing and maintaining the fundamentals; layering newly acquired or perfected skills on top of a strong foundation through practice and experience. While golf is very much an individual sport, there should be a reminder to project managers that if you’re not personally growing and taking on new challenges, you will let yourself and your team down. Growing your own solid foundation, regardless of the type of work being managed, will always serve you well.