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Similarities Between Project Management and Flying

I love the simplicity of the Project Management Life Cycle (PMLC), all true projects follow it. But just because something is simple doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy.

As a student pilot I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of similarities between flying a plane and managing a project. For example, the traffic pattern around an airport consists of five legs: Departure, Crosswind, Downwind, Base, and Final.

Similarly, a project consists of four legs: Initiating, Planning, Executing, and Closing. If I were to correlate the two disciplines it would look something like this:

PMLC                        Flying
Initiating                  Departure
Planning                   Crosswind
Executing                 Downwind
Closing                     Base/Final

The Departure (Initiating) leg is where the project “takes off.” The goal is to get the project airborne by defining the project scope, assembling the project team, and kicking off the project. Typically, a lot of energy (fuel) and enthusiasm accompanies the Initiating leg of the project.

The Crosswind (Planning) leg is where most the project tasks and deliverables are identified in advance of the work being done. A key concept in aviation is “flying ahead of the plane.” It is imperative for the pilot/project manager to stay ahead the plane/project and know what to do ahead of time.

As with most projects, the Downwind (Executing) leg is the longest segment of the traffic pattern. It’s been said that a perfect landing begins with flying a perfect pattern, and much of the pre-landing checklist is completed during the Downwind leg.

The Base/Final (Closing) leg are actually two legs in the traffic pattern, but for purposes of this analogy I’ve combined them. The Base leg runs perpendicular to the runway and is the “key point” for the pilot to determine whether the airplane is ready for landing. From a project management perspective, the key point can be seen as the “Go/No Go” point to determine if the project is ready for Go Live.

The Final leg is the final approach to landing. Like a pilot lining up the airplane with the runway and managing pitch and power to make a successful landing, the project manager successfully lands and closes the project.

Happy landings.

By: John Howard, PMP
PMO Consultant | Agile Coach

Topics : Articles, Project Management

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