How Modern Pentathlon Is the Same As Agile Project Management?

Photo by Gentrit Sylejmani on Unsplash

My time is often shared between doing sports, web development, and running a company. It was about time I focus on finding common ground between the three major activities in my life — turned out they indeed share plenty of similarities.

The subject of project management methodologies has been a hot topic for the last several years. Today I decided to focus on the specifications of the agile methodology since my team and I often use it in our day-to-day at the office. I was astonished to realize just how similar it is to pentathlons!

I believe my sporting experience can be a great example when it comes to using the agile methodology in business projects.

Modern pentathlon in a nutshell

The modern pentathlon’s concept and rules have continuously changed over time ever since the pentathlon’s initial appearance back in Ancient times during the Olympics.

Modern-day pentathlon has kept many of the initial concept’s fundamentals, though. In a nutshell, this sport is divided into several sections and each one of them tends to test participants’ different skills in terms of durability, speed, balance, and precision.

The race starts with 200 meters of swimming, followed by fencing (one-touch épée). After that, the contestants continue with an equestrian jumping show and end the race with a handicapped-combined event of five tracks of 600-meter runs. In between, there are four shooting sessions with laser pistols.

In the pentathlon, much like any other sporting event (or any other life activity whatsoever) you usually start with a general idea of what your ultimate goal shall be. The act of preparation has always been a huge part in terms of having the proper mindset and attitude toward any given situation. No one likes it when things don’t run as smoothly as expected.

But the truth is that sometimes things go downhill — again, both in pentathlons and any other activity.

Let’s say you enter the race with a prepared strategy for each of its several parts or tracks. Suddenly, you realize the swimming pool on the terrain vastly differs from the one you used for training back home. Your fencing track could be located in a hall with slippery floors. You may even draw a bad-tempered horse for the ride!

And suddenly your initial strategy goes down the drain. As frustrating as it can be, you in fact need to accept the sudden turn of events and quickly come up with a new plan according to the newly-presented obstacles or issues along the way.

Essentially, that’s using the agile method during a pentathlon race. This exact method is widely used in project management in business as well.

The agile project management methodology allows us to quickly turn obstacles into advantages on the spot

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In terms of project management in business, we all tend to use different approaches and methods in order to get the job done. While there are several popular ones, today I want to focus entirely on the agile method (without disregarding the other methods’ pros and advantages in some cases).

Since the agile method focuses on goals by dividing the project into bits, it allows the team and managers to constantly check whether a certain approach does the trick.

Much like in pentathlons, the team can try out different ideas on the spot and check whether they manage to keep the project moving forward. If not, the team and its leader can always change the strategy fast and come up with different ways of task execution in terms of reaching the goal. There are times in pentathlons when the contestant has planned to outrun everybody by ten seconds, but at the end, they are a minute behind. This immediately affects their approach toward some of the other tracks of the race in order to meet the initial end goal.

Agile provides another advantage as well — it stimulates the team’s proactivity since the members have the chance to count on their own expertise before referring the matter to their lead. Then they all can easily outweigh the strategy’s advantages (or flaws) and make the necessary changes. The lack of strong micromanagement makes the agile methodology one of the most preferred among all project management styles. It’s dynamic and flexible as well, which provides the opportunity for constant development.

During races, I often have to totally change my initial plan for reaching a certain goal due to ever-changing circumstances. Executing a project in business is no different — that’s why agile is the perfect strategy in cases like these.

Key points of the agile methodology we should have in mind when it comes to project management

In pentathlons, we already know the rules, we are familiar with the tracks, we have a general idea of how things are supposed to go and we have a certain goal — to win the race.

In project management, we know the client’s requirements, we are familiar with the deadlines and we aim at reaching a certain goal — providing high value in terms of a product or service.

If the agile methodology has proven to work wonders in doing sports, it’s safe for us to assume that it will be a good management solution in terms of business projects as well. The exact same lessons and experiences we get from a pentathlon race are similar to the ones we can get out of project execution:

  • agile has a constantly evolving design — both in sports and in business this method allows us to further develop our initial ideas and strategies to make them even more profitable and useful
  • we simply cannot plan upfront perfectly — once we have a goal, there’s no need to run by the numbers all the time; instead, we focus on flexibility
  • we may be failing fast but we are also learning fast — the moment obstacles, issues, and problems emerge is the moment when we immediately get new experiences and lessons
  • agile’s ever-dynamic characteristics of planning on the field help us keep ourselves constantly aware of our surroundings while also always having the big picture in mind

In a nutshell

Agile is just a great tool for projects that require often and sharp turns of events. The good thing is that every company can try out different types of project management in order to find the best solution.

Hi, guys, I’m Ivan, and I’m here to share with all of you my passion for words, great content, entrepreneurship, personal development, management, hobbies, and everything in between.

I serve as the CEO of my WordPress Development Agency @ Vipe Studio, where I have the pleasure to lead a diverse, wonderful and energetic team of experts. Feel free to contact me anytime — I would love to exchange new ideas and inspire each other!

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Ivan Popov

Ivan Popov

i was once an athlete. then a journalist. now i am a ceo of vipe studio. still running marathons though.