Picture an avid outdoor enthusiast. It’s likely you’re thinking of flannel, heavy boots, backpacks stuffed to the brim, and an SUV with a giant roof rack. With their sense of adventure, they’re prepared for anything and are experts at planning ahead.

While the worlds may feel completely separate from one another, project managers and business leaders can learn a great deal from the adventure experts; our PMs for the outdoors.

Always be prepared: Be ready so you can shift nimbly as changes arise.

Anyone who was ever a scout has recited a version of this countless times. They check the weather, read trail reviews, ask their local REI for the best gear recommendations – all in the vain of being ready for whatever might head their way.

For the project manager, preparedness requires understanding where risks lie and being ready to address them should it become necessary. Inevitably, a resource will get sick or a part will come in late. Small changes can throw off a plan completely. So, how do you account for those issues in an effective way?

To stay prepared throughout a project lifecycle, PMs need to be aware of which resources are stretched too thin and which projects are approaching their maximum budget, as well as accounting for things they cannot control, like outside manufacturers or contractors.

Being ready to quickly absorb those changes and adjust your project plan will enable you to clearly communicate with clients, executives, and project contributors alike.

Only pack the essentials: Cut down on the extras, and get back your time.

Anyone who has ever been on a backpacking trip can tell you a lesson they learned the hard way: don’t take too much weight in your pack. There’s no quicker way to dampen the fun of being outside than struggling under the weight of superfluous items you’ll never use. What is absolutely essential? Food, water, shelter. The gadgets you see in the magazines? They’re just added weight that will slow you down.

The same can be said of time wasted gathering project statuses, spending countless hours in spreadsheets to produce charts that aren’t ever quite right, and updating static project plans that are thrown by the slightest change.

What is absolutely essential? Data. The right data, at the right time, with changes reflected in real-time. Clients want to know exactly when their projects will be finished. Executives want to know exactly where budgets stand and how efficiently resources are performing.

There will always be new applications and add-ons that seem to enhance your process. But are they truly adding value or just adding weight? Using a single tool that can plan, give real-time statuses, communicate with clients, and give executives the specific updates they want to see helps cut down on the burden of managing several disconnected moving parts. Leave the binders and whiteboards behind, get out of constant status meetings, shed the extra weight, and get down to the root of what matters.

Know your limits: How to know when there’s too much to be done and how to prove it.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all from our friends in hiking boots: know your limits. In the outdoor community, limits are definitively finite. If you haven’t hiked in years, your body will certainly let you know on the 4,000-foot elevation gain trail you chose. Don’t have an AWD vehicle? You should probably skip driving through the unplowed winter roads.

Every business has constraints that are equally finite: resources, machines, time, contract value. They can all make it difficult to know exactly what your team can take on and when they can finish their current workload. Using a tool that actually takes into account the priority of your work, availability of your resources, and an estimate of time to accomplish a task that takes variance into account can give you insight into exactly what your team can handle. Ultimately, taking on too much work will obviously cause delays, can completely disrupt your supply chain, and can lead to tension with clients. Conversely, not taking on enough work limits your team’s ability to perform most efficiently and optimize your growth.

So the next time you begin a new project plan, think of our friends in the mountains. Stay prepared, only take on as much as you can handle, keep only the essentials, and use a tool that can help you stay on top of all three in one place.

What Project Managers Can Learn from the Outdoor Enthusiast was last modified: July 13th, 2017 by Becca Elliott