Project Management Lessons From The Tour De France

One of the most-watched and most-anticipated bicycle races of the year, the Tour de France marries elite-level sport with competitive drama and spectacular panoramas. It also offers many excellent examples of project management principles applied to a highly visible endeavor that leaves little room for error. Even seasoned PMP®s may be able to take a few tips from the teams that tackle the Tour de France.


Learn to balance laser focus with a view of the big picture. For many months before the Tour begins, teams and spectators alike analyze those legs of the race that are likely to spell success or trouble for key riders. The teams, however, know the Tour is truly a marathon, not a sprint. With three weeks of racing ahead of them, riders pick out those stages they want to capitalize on while also identifying opportunities to rest and where they may be able to partner with other teams for mutual gain. They look at days that don’t play to their strengths and they develop plans to ensure they don’t invite problems through complacency or fatigue. Project teams must take the same approach, with careful planning around not only the high-visibility phases but also those everyday (and possibly energy-sapping) activities that move the Project Team toward repeatable success.


Don’t let setbacks derail your progress. With all the planning that goes into each Tour, a team that sets its sights on one or two specific accomplishments can easily lose its momentum when things don’t go their way. The weather could be unseasonably warm or cool, road conditions might be hampered by recent construction, even the fans can sometimes interfere with how the race progresses. Seasoned cyclists have learned to take each phase as it comes and to put setbacks behind them when it’s time to focus on what’s ahead. Most high-performing PMP®s develop a similar skill set that enables them to deal with challenges without becoming sidetracked by them.


It’s a team sport. News stories focus on the star riders in the Tour, either those with previous wins under their belt or the up-and-coming talents everyone is watching. But even the most successful cyclists know the overall performance of their teams is what usually spells success or failure. A cycling team that can work together—where each member is keenly aware of their role and which skills they have to contribute—is a team that can overcome adversity, that can spot potential risks and quickly create plans to mitigate them, and that can ultimately carry their rider to victory. The organizers of the Tour de France also acknowledge the importance of the team structure and each year give a highly-coveted award to the best-performing team. Those in the project office must also recognize how important the team is in the quest for project success. Every team member brings valuable experience and expertise, and a well-functioning team capitalizes on each person’s strengths, no matter their position in the hierarchy.


Attention to detail is crucial. The riders may fill the TV cameras’ viewfinders and major milestones may dominate the headlines, but there are an enormous number of details handled behind the scenes that directly impact each rider’s performance. Nutrition, equipment availability, and transportation details are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding success at the Tour de France. Project teams have many of the same challenges when it comes to managing all those details that make the key achievements happen. The focus of sponsors and champions may be on the big wins, but it’s the small steps along the way that make overall success possible.

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