For twenty-five years I was a pilot of the Brazilian Air Force, and during this time I had the chance to fly several aircraft, including fighters and freighters. In parallel I was a manager in IT projects. Amazingly, there are some similarities between flying airplanes and managing a project.
Aerodynamics is the study of flight, and is based on four basic forces: gravity, lift, drag and thrust. The balance of these forces explains the movement of an airplane as it soars through the sky until reaches its destiny. What seems to be magic is explained by some laws of physics and four forces acting on the aircraft.
- GRAVITY: is a force that is always directed toward the center of the earth and pulls the airplane down.
- LIFT: to overcome gravity an airplane must generate an opposed force named lift, that is created by the motion of the aircraft through the air. Lift pushes the airplane up.
- DRAG: as the airplane moves forward the air resists the motion, and the resistance force is called drag, which is contrary to the flight direction.
- THRUST: to overcome drag, airplanes use a propulsion system to generate a force called thrust, which pushes the airplane forward.
Since the aircraft were created, engineers have been trying to improve the balance of theses forces to facilitate pilot`s life, improve safety and performance. A lot of progress was made, and we can observe that by the shape, engines, avionics, and procedures adopted along the last 100 years. Besides, pilots must study and train hard to keep things working properly.
Similarly, when you are managing a project, the forces that lead you to your destiny (goal) are the same.
· GRAVITY: the things that pulls the project down. Some examples are the weaknesses of our team, complex or ill-defined processes, incorrect approach, bad communication, lack of resources, unmotivated team, not effective leadership, low maturity, inappropriate tools, and so forth.
· LIFT: the things that pulls the project up. It is exactly the opposite of the examples cited for gravity, that it, your strengths, and everything we already know that helps us.
· DRAG: the things that can prevent us from moving forward towards our goal but are still uncertain. They can be considered the threats, eventual impediments, or challenges we may face.
· THRUST: the things that can help us to move forward towards our goal but are still uncertain. They can be considered the opportunities, eventual partnerships, facilitators, and so forth.
We, as managers together with our team can play the roles of engineers, and pilots. We can work to identify gravity, lift, drag and thrust at the beginning of the project and balance theses forces to reach our goals. Here you can find some good tips, from an “old” pilot.
· Have powerful engines: find the right purpose, motivate your team, and keep them aware of the progress they are achieving.
· Have appropriate avionics: good dashboards provide visual and quick understanding of what is going on with you project, allow fast response and effective decision making.
· Streamline your aerodynamics: define processes as lean as possible without losing control. It avoids wastes and unnecessary effort to move forward.
· Define the better route: creating a good plan is mandatory but plan only as much as necessary.
· Study the weather forecast: you may face good weather (opportunities) and bad weather (threats). You must be ready to both.
· Fill your tanks to reach your destiny and to go to an alternative airfield: if something goes wrong you must have a plan B
· Be ready for emergencies: bad things can happen. Try to anticipate them and keep calm. If the airplane (project) is still flying, you have time to fix the problem.
· Manage the crew: teach your team to work together. Each one has different functions, but they must act as a single body.
· Fly as much as you can: a good project manager must always be practicing his/ her management skills
· Know your aircraft as the palm of your hands: get as much information as possible about your project.
· Learn the limits of the aircraft: you must be aware of team’s capabilities. Do not strain it too much.
· Avoid sudden moments with the stick: abrupt and fast changes create confusion in your team.
To be a good pilot, as well as a good manager demands years of experience, study, and hard work. Practice leads to perfection. Be passionate for what you do and don’t ever give up. After thousands of hours flying and years managing projects, I can tell you. One day things start to make sense and go right. I wish you clear blue skies in your flights (projects).