Personal Best in Project Management


Last week we attended the APM conference where Marc Woods gave an inspiring talk about achieving  world class performance.  A signed copy of his book ‘Personal Best’ was in the goodie bag given to delegates. I started reading on the train on my way home and continued over the weekend. According to the book cover ‘Marc was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, had his leg amputated and went on to win four Paralympic gold medals.’ The book is a mixture of personal stories from Marc’s own experience, inspirational stories about others who have overcome adversity or achieved athletic success and practical ‘how to’ advice for those seeking to improve performance of individuals and teams. True to the message in the book, although Marc’s name is on the cover – there are important contributions from a range of experts including his coach, Lars Humer.

There is lots of good advice here for project managers. For me, the best chapters were on teamwork and communication. In ‘teamwork’ stories from competitive relay swimming emphasised the importance of the team sharing a common goal. Of course this is well known but Marc emphasises that team discussions are needed to establish what success looks like and how each individual can best contribute. The role of the leader is in facilitating the communication and in assigning tasks to individuals to best achieve the team goals. In the chapter on communication, we have good advice on giving and receiving feedback. Also, there is important advice on seeking feedback in order to improve and in evaluating feedback and deciding whether to act on it or to ‘let it go’.

Marc emphasises that the idea of ‘personal best’ is not just for athletes but can be applied in any walk of life. The healthcare worker with an off-hand manner who does not treat patients as individuals is failing to achieve their personal best in their role. Project managers need mentors and team members who can point out where we can improve. The book has practical advice on goal setting and on the focus, commitment and practice needed for achieving mastery or personal best. This advice is general enough to be applied to many subject areas from sport to the business arena.

The book is an inspiring combination of stories and practical advice. By telling his own story, Marc convinces us that adversity and challenging circumstances can be overcome and can provide the motivation to improve performance. Marc does not gloss over the effects of serious illness, sometimes health challenges cannot be overcome but we need to make ‘personal best’ use of the time that we have to make a positive difference.

Moving from knowing to doing, requires goals, dedication and practice, tracking of performance and support and understanding from a team. Achieving high performance also needs support from friends and family and Marc pays tribute to those who supported and inspired him, especially his father.

The takeaway message is summarised in the closing lines. Marc asks us to take away:
– a desire to live life to the full,
– the inspiration to be the best we can be,
– the determination to strive to constantly improve and
– the courage to live life without regret.

Uplifting and inspiring words for the APM conference delegates to take away, reflect and act on in the coming year. Perhaps a good starting point is to define what is ‘personal best’ for us and the steps we will take to move closer to this in the year ahead.