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Managing Projects is Like Running on the Beach

Twice a week I make a round trip run on the beach between Hermosa and Manhattan Beach piers, about 4 miles. It's a great way to get some exercise and some deep thought while enjoying the sounds of the ocean. Compared to jogging on pavement, the sand brings on a whole different set of challenges and opportunities that remind me of the variety of technical programs and companies I've encountered over the years.

At low tide the sand is compressed, easy to navigate and the pitch is relatively flat so it's delightful to run right beside the lapping waves. However, at high tide, the pitch isn't flat so the foot turns at an awkward ankle and it's tough on the joints. I prefer not to run there and instead move away from the water up to a flatter section. Who could have guessed that my path would be influenced by the tides!

As you move away from the water the sand becomes more variable. It's loose with no obvious path and has the occasional remnant of a sand castle or deep hole that was dug by a child over the weekend that seems to come up unexpectedly. You have to decide whether to go around it, jump over it (woo hoo!) or go through it. I've made this journey many times so I know where I want to end up so I take it step by step and eventually make my way. Running in the loose sand takes a little more energy and puts more strain on the body because my feet slip more than they would on a firmer path. The variability reminds me of managing a project in a startup company or dealing with a new technology or development partner. Things change constantly and you have to adapt.

We have beach patrol who drive along in their trucks and also maintenance vehicles that come by to regularly groom the beach. They lay down a nice tire path or a groomed swath on that loose sand that is consistent and sometimes even goes in the direction I'm trying to go. It's certainly easier to run on this path although maybe not as exciting. But hey, if it's going in my direction then why not take advantage of it! Think of it as someone who has gone before you who has blazed a trail with knowledge or methodology that helps you move along more efficiently.

Deciding which path to take for your project depends on your culture, timeline and risk level. Taking a different path may be the best solution if you are dealing with new situations that have never been conquered before - perhaps a new customer, technology or market segment. Doing so will stretch your team and organization in new ways but they will grow. Now get out there and run!

Originally published on LinkedIn

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