What Chess Boxing Can Teach You About Project Management?

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A woman in boxing gloves punching chess pieces.A friend who lives in Germany was trying to explain the concept of chess boxing to me the other day. Apparently it is a big sport over there and is starting to become more popular in other places now as well.

A match of chess boxing involves alternate rounds of chess and – you guessed it – boxing. It sounds like a random combination of sporting challenges at first but once I started thinking about it I got more interested in the subject. In fact, as I was lying in bed with my mind wandering vaguely I even managed to find a few connections between this brutal yet tactical sport and project management.

Switch Between Skills or End Up On the Floor

Let’s imagine that you are a keen chess player. As you slip on your gloves and move your gum shield into position you are thinking about whether it is time for your bishop to make an attacking move or whether you plan to use him as a decoy while your knight gallops forward. Suddenly your opponent’s fist hits you in the jaw and you are on the floor, meaning that you won’t get a chance to do anything with your bishop anyway. Nothing quite as dramatic or painful is likely to happen to you on your projects but it is an excellent demonstration of what can happen if you don’t switch from one skill to another at the right time. You need to show a lot of different abilities in the project management role and one of the keys is in knowing when to switch from, for example, meeting mode to problem solving mode. This is one of the aspects of the job which keeps it interesting and is likely to keep you on your toes as well.

Learn New Skills

When you think about it, the competitors in chess boxing have all made a conscious decision to improve their skills at some point. Some of them have said to themselves that being good at chess is all well and good but that it is time that they learned how to pummel people with their fists, while others have taken the opposite approach. As a project manager you will want to constantly learn new skills and this is a great approach to have in your career.

Stand Up to Varied Challenges

It must be tiring to fight off a sustained attack on your king only to have to then face a barrage of jabs and hooks. Having to face a varied and ever changing series of challenges is also one of the big problems you are likely to have to stand up to on a project. You might sort out some staffing issues only to find that you now have problems on the technical front or that your stakeholders aren’t happy with something. As far as I am concerned the variety in the job is one of its big attractions but this also means that the challenges have a lot of variety to them as well. If you can handle them then it will give you a great deal of satisfaction in the long run too.

Improve on Your Weak Areas

It won’t matter that you are a grandmaster at chess if you have a chin made of glass and end up whimpering whenever a few blows hit you on the head. This is one sport in which you need to have a decent approach to improving your weak areas if you want to succeed. The project world is similar in that you can’t afford to be weak in certain areas even if you are particularly strong in other. Of course, we all start off a new job with a number of weaknesses. This can’t be avoided but it is something you should look to rectify as soon as you possibly can. One of your first steps should be to identify the areas you need to work on in order to survive and prosper in this role. You certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of having issues with certain of the skills which this job requires. The time to feel embarrassed is when you have been in the role for a number of years and haven’t anything about learning the things you need to know. If you start looking at brushing up on these needs early on in your career then you can look forwards without any fear of what the future holds.

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Would James Bond Make a Good Project Manager?

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James Bond gun barrel opening sequence.One of the classic James Bond films was on the TV last night and I couldn’t resist watching part of it. I am not sure of the name but it is the one where he is in a cable car and Jaws puts his teeth to good use.

Anyway, I was a bit tired and my mind started to wander a bit. I got to thinking about whether or not 007 would make a good project manager or not. I even came up with a few project related puns on titles of some of his films but in the cold light of day none of them are any good so let’s just see whether he has the right skills to do the job.

He Stays Cool Under Pressure

Wouldn’t you love to be as cool, calm and collected as Mr Bond? He could be desperately avoiding deadly laser beams, clambering along the roof of a train or hanging off a plane and he would still stay cool. He would be unlikely to get involved in situations like this as a project manager (unless he has a SPECTRE agent as a stakeholder, I guess) but it is still a great attribute to have. As everyone else panics around him he would stay calm, sip his martini and work out how to get the project back on track.

He Looks the Part

Any project manager who dresses well and looks intelligent is off to a head start. Bond’s bosses and stakeholders are likely to be impressed by his appearance even before he stands up at his first project meeting and says, “The name’s Bond, project manager James Bond”. It might not seem as important a part of the role as others but a project leader who dresses well and looks after their appearance will have more chance of getting stakeholders on their side right away. Of course, turning up to a project meeting with a bow tie on might be a bit over the top but it has got to be better than wearing ripped jeans and a Star Trek t-shirt to work.

He Is Well Spoken

I think that it is important for any project manager to be well spoken, and James is certainly that. I would say that the Sean Connery version of 007 was my favorite and his distinctive voice would certainly command attention in the meetings and workshops. Communication is a huge part of the role and the fact that Bond can explain his ideas and get on well with all sorts of different people would be a huge advantage.

He Isn’t Afraid of Technology

There isn’t usually a lot of need for project managers to use bug detectors, shoes with daggers in them or a wristwatch garrote. Even the Aston Martin with the tire slashing hubcaps would be a nice-to-have rather than a must-have on most projects. However, if all of these gadgets have shown us anything it is that James isn’t afraid of technology. This is good news, as he will come across a lot of things he has never used before. Now, if we get Q involved in the project as well that would be a good thing.

He Isn’t Much of a Team Player

One drawback I can find here is that he is a bit of loner and I can’t really imagine him working in a team for too long. Sure, he has some colleagues and glamorous assistants from time to time but most of them come a cropper and he always seem happy to work alone anyway. I think that Bond would need to learn how to work in a team and that this could be one of the biggest challenges for him.

He’s a Bit of a Loose Cannon

Another of the big drawbacks with the idea of 007 as a project manager is the fact that he is a bit of a loose cannon. It’s all very well heading off to the Caribbean and ignoring your bosses phone calls when you have a license to kill but it is a different matter altogether when you have a milestone to meet. His lax attitude to team keeping and his lack of respect for authority would go against him as well. All in all, he definitely has some of the basic skills needed for this role but he needs to polish up his act a little before I would trust him with one of my projects.

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