On the surface, a soapbox derby seems to have little in common with project management. But project management professionals can actually learn quite a bit by observing how soapbox teams achieve project success.

Corporate management and consulting concept

Some projects are huge. Scale doesn’t have to be about complexity or duration. Sometimes projects are simply so monumental—in a career, in an organization—that they fill your entire windshield. A few high-profile soapbox races happen each year that are truly grand. As in the corporate project management realm, teams need to make peace with the enormity of these projects so they can tackle them without feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t let past failures get you down. When race day arrives, every soapbox team knows there can only be one winner. They also know that, even if they didn’t win last year, their efforts this time around might still be enough to get them over the finish line in first place. Project teams should learn from their past mistakes, but they need to be able to meet new challenges head on and without trepidation.

Past success is no guarantee of future results. The defending champion from last year’s derby walks into each new event with something to prove. Rather than sitting back riding on the wins from previous years, these racers know their past successes mean they need to work even harder with each successive race if they want to win. PMP®s should be careful they don’t become complacent with their skills, since every new project brings the potential for new challenges.

Stakeholder engagement counts for a lot. Fan support doesn’t win a soapbox derby, but every good racer makes it a priority to entertain the crowd. The energy given off by fans—and stakeholders—helps to keep everyone engaged.

Be mindful of potential dangers, even when things are going well. A soapbox racer setting a blistering pace is always aware the next corner could bring a problem. Will they be going too fast to negotiate a tight turn? Is there gravel on the road? Like PMP®s, soapbox drivers have learned to maximize their productivity now without losing sight of where challenges are likely to lurk.

Planning and execution are equally important. Showing up at a derby without a good car is a recipe for failure, but so is tackling a course with a driver who isn’t capable of getting the best performance out of their machine. Savvy soapbox racers scout out the course and fine tune their car’s handling setup before every event. When race time comes, they put all their energy into performing well right here, right now. Project Teams should also be mindful of this balance between good planning and competent execution.

Teamwork should be fun. Watch the soapbox cars carrying multiple people and you’ll quickly see that teamwork isn’t all about work. PMP®s may not always enjoy their working relationships as much as the soapbox teams do, but engaging is some lighthearted activities or putting together an occasional social function can really improve morale.

Learn to recover quickly. Many soapbox racers stumble—they hit a hay bale, they lose speed in a turn, a wheel comes off—but they know that persistence can save the day. Every project is sure to have its own set of glitches, even if they’re only minor. Project teams need to have good momentum if they want to overcome these obstacles and achieve consistent success.

Enjoy the journey. Win or lose, crash or conquer, every soapbox racer has a good time. If they’ve given their best effort, PMP®s will also be able to look back on every project with pride and satisfaction.


Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

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