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Connecting the Links

Look for scratch golfer Frank Ryle, and it’s likely you’ll find him where I caught up with him: on the putting green. To Ryle, golf is not merely a game but a valuable tool for teaching a new paradigm for project management. Instead of droning on in a sterile auditorium or crowded conference room, he gets his ideas across by walking executives through nine holes.It all started when Ryle, senior trainer with the International Institute for Learning, set out to write a traditional book on business management.

Instead of the dry tomes that remain unread on dusty shelves, he decided to give a new spin to the topic. Inspired by the clear-cut nature of a nine-hole golf game, he developed nine steps you need for successful project management, all of them outlined in Keeping Score: Project Management for the Pros (April 2012).

Ryle is concerned about the high level of pressure present in the workplace, particularly in the United States. “I see terrible stress levels. You don’t want to die out before you get the chance to enjoy your success,” he says. To Ryle, it’s not about working harder and longer; as with golf, it’s about working smarter and more systematically.

Ryle says great project management starts before you tee off. Just as you align your swing, you’ve got to align your idea, considering the basics: the course layout (project overview), players’ handicaps (strengths and weaknesses of colleagues), why they’re playing (project goals) and who’s picking up the tab (the bottom line).

In the struggling world economy, efficiency is another area of weakness. Many overconfident project managers are still adjusting after the loss of easy boom days where they could turn a blind eye to whiffs and mulligans caused by inconsistent vision and lack of planning. Ryle’s step-by-step approach shows managers how to evaluate projects at every hole, so to speak. If changes are necessary, it’s easier to make a fix before the last putt is dropped.

 

How to Keep on Par When You’re Playing Nine—in the Office or at the Club

Get a scorecard. Just as players keep score, regularly assess project progress with Ryle’s handy tracking chart or other process document.

Identify and celebrate success at each hole. Small victories can be celebrated as much as they are on the green—with a high-five and a timeout for some refreshment. Similarly, when the project goal is reached, celebrate again—this time with a group lunch or small party.

Avoid emotional bleeding. Just as golfers shouldn’t cart stress or exuberance from hole to hole, effective managers don’t let failure or success in one area bleed into other areas of a project.

Gauge cultural differences inherent in outsourcing. Although golf is played by the same rules across cultures, business is not. Become a student of culture, master of time zones and advocate of diplomacy.

Check out what drives fellow players. Because behavior traits and patterns on the green transfer to the office, gain valuable personality insights by simply looking and listening during out-of-office interactions.

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