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Project Management is Like Running a Marathon

By Carla Moe, Project Manager

To start off, I’d like to introduce my background to help make sense of this post. I currently run in about two half marathons a year, as well as a few 10k races here and there.  One is in Kiawah (Charleston) and the other is wherever my sister decides to run her full marathon!  This year it was the “Flying Pig” in Cincinnati. I mainly run to stay in shape and I do the half marathons so I can travel to fun places, run and then eat and drink what I want after the race!

Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati

Now on to the relevance: Running an accounting software project is like preparing for a marathon. The finish is always in front of you, but it is the planning, preparation, and pacing of the marathon that is most important.  Does running marathons require you to just grab your old gym shoes and put on a pair of shorts and go running?  No. You have to do some research and get the right shoes so you don’t get blisters or injure yourself.  The right clothes are necessary so you don’t have chafing with the wrong shorts…ouch!!! And now, they have special shirts that keep you dry and comfortable even when the shirt is wet with sweat!  A lot of vendors cater to women because they know we have to look good, coordinate, and be fashionable even when we are sweating—just another dimension to our never ending wardrobe.  Preparing for the software project involves finding out who is on the team, what kind of time they can dedicate to the project and whether we can meet the “go-live” objective with what has been purchased. All of this is necessary to prepare for the “go-live” and meet the goal set.  The same with marathons—if you prepare correctly, you have started off on the right foot! (No pun intended :))

The next step in the nonprofit accounting software implementation is to put together the project plan. Clients find that they tend to be cumbersome and bulky.  It is best to keep the plan at the high level with tasks, because we can get into the task details with a checklist that will be given to each person responsible. It is also necessary to set the deadlines on each task so that people have an end date in site and it will correspond with the project plan.  The plan includes both teams, so it may be equated to a relay of sorts—such as marathons, which can have relay teams with a very coordinated effort!  In the software project, you do your part, and we will do ours. If the client drops the baton or lags behind, then we have to pick it up and make up the difference, and that inevitably brings us to the software budget over-run.  We have to pace ourselves in the race as not to burn out and not be able to finish within the time we set for ourselves.  In a project, if the client overloads one person with most of the tasks and doesn’t divvy them out, then we experience frustration, missed deadlines and client burn-out—and we definitely don’t want that!

Training is key in any project. At Serenic Software, we use the approach of “train the trainer.” It is best to have the end user trained by their own personnel that have worked with the software since inception and understand their own business processes so that they can speak the same language.  In the marathons, training is really about doing the work and then performing to the level you trained for all those weeks and months leading up to the race.  The same applies in an accounting software project, if you stay focused and in the software the whole time we are in the implementation stage, then you will be ready to train your end-user on the software and they will be successful.  If they have an issue, they can always go back to the key user for questions.  Just like on the marathon course: if you have an issue, there are designated first aid stations and medics on bicycles to help you out!

We are all in the marathon to the finish or the project to “go-live” within the goal time we set.  We can’t forget the details while we are in the race. For instance, you have to fuel your body before the race and hydrate during and post race.  That kind of distance can cause our bodies to dehydrate and some people have even died during the race because they ignored the precautions.  As we incur many risks in a project, death usually isn’t on the list.  However, there can be the death of the project because the people in the project didn’t keep up the pace and take ownership of the software & tasks at hand.   We also recognize that the client has to perform day to day activities, but the commitment to this project can easily turn into a part time or full time job.  It is best to try to delegate some of your regular duties so you can concentrate on getting the tasks completed and delivered from your end and not slow down the project.

So we finish the race.  Are we done? Nope. We have to stretch, massage those muscles, hydrate and take it easy for a few days. And of course…sign up for next year!  In the project, we can take a brief moment to bask in the glory of flipping the “go live” switch, but then we must continue to solve any issues, keep on top of the end user training, and level set expectations of future work that may have been put aside until after “go-live.”

I hope the analogy of preparing for a marathon and running an accounting software project resonate well in your minds—if not, let me know your analogies! :)

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