But watching the cyclists I’ve also realised that construction could learn from the race.
- It takes a huge amount of preparation. For competitors the race doesn’t start on race day, but it takes months and years of preparation. I wish project teams spent as much time in preparing their projects. Customers often start projects in haste, concepts are sometimes not decided, designs aren’t finished, permits aren’t in place, the contract document and scope of works is incomplete, the contractor bidding and selection process is rushed, and everyone seems ill prepared for the project. It’s like a cyclist on the Tour starting with a puncture, the wrong shoes and their support team forgetting to take liquid refreshments. The project is bound to fail.
- It takes teamwork. To the casual observer cycling would seem to be an individual sport, but in the Tour the top cyclists are supported by their whole team and they couldn’t achieve what they do without that support. Constructing a project is a team effort and I certainly would not have achieved what I did without the support of a great team I could rely on. We often only see and recognise the project manager, yet without their team they wouldn’t achieve what they do.
- Good support is critical. As we watch the cyclists in the Tour their support vehicles are never far away, always attentive, providing drinks and food and always near to provide support should things go wrong. In construction it’s also essential that the project team receives support from their Head Office. Wages must be paid on time, suppliers and subcontractors need to be paid, management should be willing and able to assist and provide advice if the project team gets into trouble. Often managers leave the project team to stumble on with no support, expecting them to handle every problem on the project on their own. Good support is essential. Sometimes that cyclist needs advice from the team manager, needs to be reminded of the dangers ahead, and requires feedback on what’s happening around them. Project managers can get wrapped-up in their project and sometimes don’t see the obvious, so a timely visit and support from their manager may just help avert a problem.
- Even with teamwork it still takes individual brilliance and hard work to succeed. Even with the best team, the best support and the best equipment, mediocre people won’t succeed. On construction projects there isn’t a place for people who can’t do their job or aren’t prepared to put the required effort in.
- A good team attracts the best. There are about 20 teams in this year’s Tour de France. Some have better riders than others – why? Well obviously some teams have more money so they pay their riders more. But also, good riders want to cycle for winning teams. Riders want to be on a team with good riders – young riders especially can learn enormously from being in a team alongside strong experienced riders who will pass on their knowledge. Everyone wants to work with a team with a strong support. It’s the same with construction companies. Good people need to be attracted with a competitive salary. People want to work with a winning team, they want to work with experienced and knowledgeable people who will share their knowledge, and they want to work with a team that has the latest equipment and technology.
- Planning. Cyclists on the Tour don’t simply wake up, get on their bicycle and start the day’s race. They’ve studied the route, they know the state of the road, where the route is uphill, the gradients, the curves, where they should conserve energy, where they need to expend the maximum energy and where dangerous portions are. The team has planned what sustenance the riders will need and when it should be supplied. There is a strategy in place to conquer what is required on that day. But of course the team has also considered what needs to be done on the following days. What hills must be climbed tomorrow. Where their competitors may catch them. What the team achieves today could set them up for victory or failure in the coming days. In construction we need to be planning – know what needs to be done today, but also understand what needs to be accomplished tomorrow and next week, because what we do today (or don’t complete today) may jeopardise the project’s progress later. Constructing a project is not a one day race.
- Things will go wrong. Plans have to be adapted. On the Tour there are falls, punctures, mechanical failures, rain, wind and heat. Other riders will make a ‘breakaway’ and take you by surprise. So the team has to be able to change their plans at short notice and recover from these surprises. In construction no matter how good our planning is there will be equipment failures, things will go wrong, there will be bad weather. The project team has to put other plans in place to limit and overcome the problem.
- Perseverance – get the job done no matter how bad things are going. Even the best cyclists will have a bad day. There will be accidents. But cyclists on the Tour have to pick themselves up – sometimes even get patched up, and carry on. Unfortunately in construction we sometimes have a bad project, a frustrating customer, an underbid project that no matter what we do will still lose money, or a project where the weather doesn't play ball. But we can’t give up. We can’t run away. We have to get the job done, the project completed – our company’s reputation depends on us completing the project. Our reputation depends on us finishing the project. So on the Tour the rider favoured to win who hits some rough patches usually perseveres, even though they are no longer in a position to win the race they still have a team and sponsors who expect them to complete the race and cycle for the full three weeks, no matter how they are hurting.
- Good equipment helps enormously. You don’t see a cyclist in the Tour with an old bicycle. Having good reliable equipment is as important for cyclists on the Tour as it is for our projects. Equipment that breakdown frequently will cause delays. Unreliable equipment could cause accidents. Old equipment often doesn’t perform as efficiently as new equipment requiring more effort to operate while achieving less. Equipment and technology is continually evolving and the team that doesn’t keep up will be left behind.
- There will always be cheats and crooks. Unfortunately, cycling like many other sports has been dominated by cheats. These days on the Tour de France drug testing is the norm. The testing is continually evolving to keep up with more sophisticated drugs. Bicycles are checked for hidden motors. Regrettably the construction industry is not immune to cheating so it’s essential that there are systems in place to ensure the project meets the required quality, safety and environmental standards. There will always be customers that will try avoid paying contractors and of course contractors, suppliers and subcontractors that will try and steal from customers. A sound contract document that is fair to all parties is essential. Proper accounting and costing systems are essential.
So even if cycling isn’t your passion it may be worth watching a few hours of the race, you never know what you could learn. Avid cycling fans now have an excuse for lazing on the couch watching the drama – at least you can say you are learning how to make your project more successful.
But more seriously we can make our projects more successful with a great team, strong support, committed employees, good equipment, the right preparation, excellent planning, hard work, the right systems and honesty and integrity.
What do you think it takes to make a project successful?
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