My main activity in the Scientific Computing Department of STFC is project manager of the CoSeC programme. My main activity outside of work hours (as well as looking after three children under the age of 6!) is training for triathlon. Is there a connection? Maybe...
When I began training for triathlons (a 1.5km swim followed by a 40km bike and a 10km run) I had no plan. I came from a running background with no experience of biking or swimming. I was making it up as I went along and although I managed to complete a few events successfully I had the feeling that I was not performing to my maximum ability. The same could be said about my introduction to project management. Obtaining relevant qualifications gave me a good insight to the role but it was not until you are actually in the position that you can start to understand more about what is involved and gain experience. You quickly learn that "on the job" experience is not the same as learning from a textbook. So, I started to think about what I need to do to get better.
The obvious answer was better planning - one of the key ingredients of good project management. The Ironman website identifies a number of traits needed to be a triathlete. The number one is "We can deftly balance a jam-packed schedule" . That sounds familiar! Project management demands good planning and time management skills. At any one time I can be compiling an annual report for the CoSeC programme whilst arranging and attending a number of quarterly project meetings, whilst also completing a financial forecast for the following year and co-ordinating a CoSeC Steering Committee meeting. Not to mention the continual resource planning and project monitoring, and having to make sure around twenty different projects are resourced and run well. The planning skills needed to ensure that the CoSeC programme project management tasks are completed on time and to the required standard can be easily transferred into triathlon training where a weekly workload will include three runs, two bike sessions, two swims and two weights sessions - all to be fitted round work hours and childcare responsibilities.
Composite image aboves shows (top row) me competing in a triathlon; (bottom row -left) organizaing the final bits and pieces for last year's Computing Insight UK conference, and (bottom row -right) fielding a zoom meeting while juggling child care duties; (centre) the medal is the icing on the cake!
My triathlon training changed from "just fitting things in when I could" to a full eight-week schedule with a planning stage (before full training begins), starting point (the first day of training), execution stage (where the training takes place), monitoring and control (ensuring training targets are being met) and closing (race day). Just like a scientific project in CoSeC!
Think of the qualities that make a good project manager... enthusiastic, cool under pressure, organised, good decision maker, problem solver, the ability not to fear failure, accountable, proactive...
Now think of the qualities that make a good triathlete... enthusiastic, cool under pressure, organised, good decision maker, problem solver, the ability not to fear failure, accountable, proactive...
So, there is a connection!
Who would have thought that skills learned through the management of the CoSeC programme that oversees the activities of twenty different scientific computing projects in subjects such as materials science, biological science, engineering, plasma physics and tomographic imaging would help me prepare for one of the toughest races that a multi-sport athlete can complete?
Two of my biggest personal strengths are strategic planning and time management and both give me a big advantage in work and training. I have ambitions to complete a half Ironman (a 1.9km swim followed by a 90km bike and a 21.1km run) and to develop and lead project managing programmes across the SCD Computational Science and Engineering Division before I am fifty, and I will need to continue to develop and strengthen all the needed mental and physical skills to make that a reality!