An avid traveler, I’ve noticed a few comparisons worth noting between my work in project management and my passion for international travel.
I love travel – preferably exotic places with beautiful vistas, wide bike lanes, and cheap food and beer.
Over the last handful of years, that passion has led me to bike across France, Italy, Denmark, and Croatia. And none of them disappointed.
Next on my list: Poland.
As a plan my next trip, I couldn’t help but think of a few comparisons worth noting between my work in project management and my passion for international travel.
What it takes to have a successful trip or project:
1. Pick the right team
When biking through unknown territory, it is important to have a group that can work together to figure out where you should be going with minimal disagreements – and most importantly, one that agrees when it is time to stop for a drink!
Admittedly, this is way easier to do when picking travel partners than it is with a project team. Most of the time you start a project and the team is already in place.
But at the very least, you should do your best to make sure that you have teammates with the right subject matter expertise.
What country are we going to? How are we going to get there? Where will we stay? I’m not saying that every little detail should be planned. I think that takes the fun out of things, but everyone needs to have a shared understanding of the basic plan.
For projects, understand and document the project goals, key deliverables, milestone dates, and more. You also need to get buy-in from both sponsors and teammates.
Again, don’t get bogged down by the details. No matter how much planning you do, things will always change.
3. Learn a new culture and language
I’m sad to admit that I don’t speak a second language, but I don’t let that limit my travel plans. I always make sure to learn a few basics before going (hello, goodbye, excuse me, bathroom and most importantly beer!).
But then I go and learn…about the food, the language, and local customs. After I return, I am inevitably apologizing in a foreign language as I get in people’s way at the grocery.
Same goes with a new project. Understand the basics before you start it, but then be prepared to drink from the proverbial fire hose as the barrage of team-specific acronyms fly out in meetings.
Ask questions not only to learn how to speak the language, but also how the team works. In what format do they want project updates? What is the best way to escalate an issue? Lean on the locals. They have the institutional knowledge!
As mentioned above, you need a plan, but expect changes. Be it a layover, a wrong turn, or a lost passport, things will inevitably go wrong when traveling. But in my experience, those make for the best stories.
On my last trip, a friend woke up to an email from the local Italian police telling her they had her passport. She didn’t even know she’d lost it! After a frantic 30 minutes, she was welcomed at the police station, where they presented her with her wallet. Money and all.
Similarly, you will never exactly follow your project plan. Unknown requirements pop up and technical challenges rear their ugly heads. All you can do is prepare, but be ready to adjust as project priorities and timelines change.
5. Have a sense of adventure
Is the menu entirely in a foreign language with no recognizable ingredients? Is there road construction preventing you from following the directions to your next destination? Exactly how far do I have to bike up this mountain?
Are the project hours long? Are the office politics counterproductive? Is there one teammate who never pulls their weight??
Put your head down and do the work. Everything is temporary and no amount of grumbling will get you through it any faster.
With any luck, there is a cold beer and fantastic view that was worth every agonizing pedal stroke to the top.