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Gorilla Theory Blog - Nothing Beats Good Planning
“I developed extreme focus - tunnel vision. I learned to block out all distractions and concentrate just on me and what I needed to do...”
Linford Christie, 1992 Olympic Chmapion, 100m

Mike Powell, Tokyo 1991 World Championships Long Jump Competition

Planning a successful project much like a long jump competition and executing a winning leap, or at the very least leaping as far as possible. The latter involves getting your run-up just right; take off too far from the board and your wasting effort and not achieving the full potential of the jump. Step a fraction over the legal mark on the board and the jump means nothing. The sweet spot is achieving the optimal speed, control, and generating as much smooth power with ideal foot placement on the board as you soar over the sand pit.

Jesse Owens - one of the greatest athletes of all time, was the favourite for the long jump gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Under the watchful gaze of Adolf Hitler. He almost failed to qualify for the final before his main rival - and Hitler's Aryan hope - gave him friendly advice and Owens achieved the qualifying distance with his final jump to reach the final later that day, which (of course) he won.

Fellow American, Mike Powell was known for his great potential as a long jumper but lived in the shadow of Carl Lewis, the multi-gold medal winning multi-event athlete. The pinnacle of Powell's career came in 1991 during the (still) greatest long jump contest recorded in terms of distances achieved and drama. Reigning world and Olympic champion Lewis was the favourite for gold and recorded an other-worldly sequence of jumps:

His fourth round jump bettered the world record leap of Bob Beamon from Mexico 1968. That leap would have won every global title EVER thus far...if it wasn't for Mike Powell and his fifth round jump.

Mike Powell was in great shape. Perhaps the best of his life. He got off to an inauspicious start with a sub 8m first attempt and improved, but was immediately behind to Lewis's prodigious early jumps. Upset by a foul call on a very long fourth round jump, everything came together for Powell on his next effort: the speed, balance, the take-off, the leap mechanics to the landing. He set a new world record with a distance of 8.95m and won the gold medal.

Like a world-record creating long jump, so many projects have all the necessary elements to succeed, such as a great idea, a competent team, the tools and (seemingly) the budget and/or motivation. How many times have you experienced those magical ingredients failing to deliver a project successfully? Most of the time, all the time, many times, at least a few times? I've personally experienced unsuccessful projects many times, in personal and social areas of my life as well as in the workplace.

How can we improve our chances of doing well with great project ingredients? In terms of the different elements:

1. The idea - A great idea does not equal a great project. No matter how inspired or revolutionary the idea, practicalities need to come into play. Interrogate the idea for it's intended benefits and values and end result. Some great ideas become less so after plain and objective analysis and this type of 'cold hard truth' reviewing can sometimes save a lot of pain of wasted effort, embarrassment and worse by not embarking on a project based on a fanciful idea. Seek to make a solid plan to deliver it - or at least recognise that a solid delivery plan is needed and delegate this task or collaborate on this task. Interrogating ideas, reviewing them, and planning the delivery may make the more creative hearts sink, but it's these things that will give life to the great ideas that succeed as projects.

2. The team - The team should be united with a main common goal and in sync with each others individual goals. This can be achieved by establishing ways to work together by clearly communicating roles, preferences, needs, and expectations). There are a plethora of articles and books on emotional intelligence. Read some. I'm not preaching gushy, softly, softly silliness, but real world application of being EFFECTIVELY NICE. Getting along productively with your project team members and with people you are relying on to provide you things or services for your projects pays dividends and can rescue potential disasters. A project team is more likely to deliver a project successfully if it is more cohesive and there is clear and expected communications.

3. The tools - Make sure you have the kit you will need. From as simple or lo-tech as a new notepad and set of pens, to a white board to show mind maps and status or issues or actions, to software and so on. Don't go in to a gun fight with a table knife. Having the necessary tools means one less thing to get frustrated by. Using tools that make your life easier and that promotes greater productivity and communications is another layer of efficiency that will aid project delivery success.

4. The budget - This is connected to the first point. Realistic view of what the end result should be brings about the planning of how to get there. Use your Team and Tools to help pain a clear picture what is required to achieve the end goal.

5. The motivation - I'm not talking about waving pom-poms and cheering, or drinking raw eggs in the morning before you get started (though all of that may help some)! I'm talking about having a clear vision of the bigger picture (the project end goal) and the impending tasks for the present - the day at hand. These two focus points will help you concentrate and keep you on track where you WILL be distracted by the usual things such as delays, friction with either team members or stakeholders, delays, issues and more.

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