I listened to a podcast recently where the guest compared entrepreneurship to riding a mountain bike down a hill. Until that point, the talking was background noise. But, because I love all types of biking, they had my attention.
The premise is, when you mountain bike down a steep grade, you’re only looking 10-20 feet in front of you. You’re focused on those immediate turns and obstacles that could send you tumbling into a tree or off the trail. It can be challenging, but also fun. Only on occasion do you look up, and most of the time when you do, you DON’T like what you see.
How true is that!! I love flying down a technical single-track trail on my mountain bike, skidding around fast corners, going airborne over jumps, and dodging rocks. But, when I look up and out, the view may not be too good. Tight, slow-turning switchbacks, steep and long climbs, and my most dreaded enemy, an obstacle on the local trail called the “ladder” (biking UP narrow wooden stairs and if you don’t make it, risk taking your foot off the pedal and falling into a shallow creek that runs on either side).
As someone who’s started a couple businesses, I can relate to the entrepreneurial analogy. But even more so, I see it in the Project Portfolio Management (PPM) space almost daily. Let me break it down a little more.
Mount PMO. An astounding 50%+ of PMO’s fail within three years. Though there are a number of reasons, one I’ve seen often is PMO leaders are focused down on processes, templates, and project completion. They don’t look up at organizational strategy and portfolio prioritization. Strategy and priority and can be a messy, ugly business. It’s a big mountain to climb, especially if there are some challenging personalities and egos involved. Instead, they focus down on things that add project value, but maybe not organizational value. These diminishing organizational returns can lead to PMO failure. Crash.
Program Ridge. Program Managers have a unique and challenging job (some days it can even be fun). Not only do they deliver business value by understanding strategic goals and working with leadership teams, but also get to help the individual project managers working on their projects deliver on scope. It’s a never-ending juggle of looking up and down, in and out. But, those that look only down and in, focusing on the individual projects, don’t see what may be coming up. Changes in the market cause one or more projects to pivot. Internal process updates. Technology shifts. When the trail turns, you may have been looking down too much and miss the ledge. Over you go! Crash.
Project Pain. PM’s usually have a lot on their plate; managing schedules, scope, risks, stakeholders, team members, and status reports, just to name a few. But if you stay too heads down, looking only at tasks and dates, you could miss a low hanging scope-stick. This low hanger can knock you (and your project) clean off your bike. Crash…plus a really big headache.
If you’re a mountain biker (and I’ve had the same experience on a road bike also), you know what it means to focus on the 10-20 feet in front of you. But if you’re a project professional, focusing on what’s immediately in front of you can be fast and sometimes fun. But looking up to see the bigger picture frequently is critical as challenges and change are every present. DON’T CRASH!!