5 Lessons Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Taught Me About Managing Projects

Recently I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you’re ever visiting Sydney, or if you live here and have never partaken, I thoroughly recommend the experience. I was equally delighted to find that climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge taught me some new lessons and reinforced some existing ones about how to manage projects to achieve success. Here is what I learned on my big adventure:

1. Be realistic about your requirements

Before I climbed the bridge, I did some research. I wanted to know which climb would be right for me. I asked myself if I would enjoy the full climb, or the sampler? Did my time and finances allow for the full climb, or not? Did I want to go during the day or at dusk for the chance of a fabulous sunset? Was my physical fitness sufficient to do the climb? What would I need to do to be prepared for the adventure?

It occurred to me that this was akin to gathering project requirements. Know what it is you want as an end outcome and whether you have the resources to achieve it. But importantly, you also need to be realistic about what you can and can’t do in order to succeed. On reviewing my requirements, in this case I realised I didn’t need the sunset, and a daytime climb would be fine. I had the physical fitness to do the full climb, and I signed myself up.

2. Planning is everything

Planning the activity of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge requires meticulous attention to detail. What I observed about the experience of this unusual activity is that from the moment I entered the building to when I left, glowing, and satisfied with my adventure. The team took care of everything to keep our group safe and informed. We were all assigned a Climb suit to wear, and critically we could not take anything with us on the climb. This was important, as the effect of someone dropping something from a great height could be dangerous to the other climbers.

Once dressed in the assigned gear, a safety talk covered off what we should and should not do and why it was important. We tried out the equipment to ensure we understood how it worked on a mini climb. They even breathalysed us to make sure we hadn’t been drinking. On the actual climb itself, each new section was approached with care until we reached the top and descended safely. Project management is, of course, much the same. Keep track of every detail, planning to ensure it runs smoothly. Being meticulous about what we must do along the way helps avoid failure.

3. Have faith in the professionals on your team

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is risky. The climb leader needs to know his/her stuff, otherwise someone could plummet into the harbour below. I can’t deny that despite knowing that people climb the bridge every day, I was still a little anxious about this eventuality. However, our climb leader was professional and thorough, making sure we all put on our harnesses properly and were securely attached at all times. It occurred to me that with project management you have to trust the professionals working on the project to do their job properly too. Not trusting them or listening to them could lead to disaster. Professionals know what they are doing. There is nothing wrong with asking questions, but failing to follow their advice could be catastrophic to the project.

4. Every step takes you closer to your end goal… but enjoy the journey too

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a task comprising 1,332 individual steps. There were different sections to negotiate, and we enjoyed the journey as our climb leader regaled us with fascinating stories and insights into how the bridge was built and interesting facts about the construction. We learned about the logistics of the build and the heartache experienced by individuals during the construction. Every step, every section and every story took us closer to the top, which was our goal, but we stopped regularly on our journey to take in the ever-more fabulous 360-degree views.

Project management is similar. Each task and every milestone is a step along the way to delivering the project successfully. Each project produces stories along the way of the people and the activities. What I realised is that as much as a project is about achieving the end goal, it is also about what you learn along the way… the people you meet and the additional information that you learn that enriches your experience.

5. The result is worth the effort

When we reached the top of the bridge, the views were phenomenal. Aside from in air transportation, there would be no way to get this sweeping view of one of the most iconic harbours in the world. I felt a proud sense of accomplishment when I arrived. Every bit of effort that I’d put in the research for the trip, feeling anxious about safety… it was all worth it. Most project managers can relate to this feeling of satisfaction with a job well done, a project delivered, and a happy client. Once you get to the end, often the thoughts of the stresses and challenges along the way dissipate as you feel elated about achieving your goal and accomplishing something new.

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I will treasure the memories of climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge for a lifetime and not least due to what the climb has taught me about managing projects. Until next time, you are up to date.