Why all projects are a bit like the Olympics

London 2012With the Olympic torch now extinguished and the Paralympics just underway, we’ve been reflecting on what we could learn from this summer’s London games. Although the multi-million pound budget and worldwide scope were on a somewhat larger scale than those of your typical business or IT project, we did note some points of comparison, and maybe even some useful lessons…

1. Planning. It took a huge amount of preparation to make the Olympics a success. Before even the first scoop of earth had been turned at the Olympic park, thousands of hours had been put into researching and writing a detailed plan. Whilst an internal project is unlikely to be seven years in the making, it equally shouldn’t commence without proper planning – rushing straight in without due thought can cause major headaches further down the line.

2. Detail. When working on a project it can be very easy to focus so much on the big picture that you forget the importance of smaller details. However, attention to detail can be key to a project’s success, and overlooking this can cause significant problems, as seen at the Olympics when images of the North Korean women’s football team were shown alongside the South Korean flag.

3. Hard work. Delivering the London Olympics took a lot of hard work ‘behind the scenes’, with what we all saw representing only the tip of the iceberg. This is also true of business projects: when looking at the final result many people are unaware of just how much hard work it has been to reach the finishing line. Just as medal winning athletes endure unglamorous hours of training away from the spotlight, projects often owe their success to long hours of hard work from key staff at evenings and weekends.

4. Persistence. Your project, and your attempt to solve a business problem, might not succeed first time but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. Rower Katherine Grainger won 3 silver medals at 3 consecutive Olympic Games before winning her gold at London 2012. Then again, sometimes a change of direction is the best course of action, as demonstrated by the numerous cycling medal winners who started off their sporting careers in rowing. If despite careful planning and lots of hard work your project is still not getting results, it might be time for a tactical change of focus.

5. Goodwill. London 2012 has been widely seen as a success but it wasn’t perfect, with some empty seats despite massive demand for tickets, Olympic lanes causing traffic chaos, and some athletes stripped of their medals for doping offences. However, these were all eclipsed by the public’s goodwill and enthusiasm: from the torch relays to the Olympic ‘Games Makers’, much was done to make everyone feel positive about the event. Similarly, no business project will ever be perfect and problems should be expected, but these inevitable blips will be forgiven if you work hard to keep all the key stakeholders and end users on-side.