Let The Project Define The Plan

By Mario Fraioli

“You should never be religious about methods of any kind. The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done.”—Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants

I pulled this quote from my notes on Berkun’s book—a quick and insightful read that recounts his time working remotely for WordPress.com—which I bought and read a little over three years ago when I moved to the Bay Area and began working from the comfort of my couch, I mean home officeI share Berkun’s words not to impart any wisdom on the secrets of working remotely but rather to help you think more critically about the process of preparing yourself or your athletes for a goal race or event. Let me explain. Despite being a business book centered around workplace culture, Berkun’s book has informed my coaching philosophy more than any “X’s and O’s” type of training book. In fact, there are many other non-running, non-exercise science books that also fall into this category but that’s another post for a different day (reply to this email or Tweet in my direction if that’s of any interest to you). Here’s how I’ve dissected Berkun’s quote and applied its wisdom to my coaching practice and training philosophy:

— You should never be religious about methods of any kind. It’s important to believe in what you’re doing but you also have to keep an open mind and re-evaluate your methodology when performances have plateaued, you’re stuck in an injury cycle or your athletes simply aren’t responding as well to the same types of workouts they’ve been doing for the past however many years. The same training plan doesn’t work for every athlete nor does the same training plan always work for the same athlete.

— The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan.Translation: Don’t drive yourself mad trying to make someone else’s training schedule fit your lifestyle, your goals and your experience level. How many of you have Googled “marathon training plan” (or something of the sort), pulled a stock plan from a magazine or asked a friend for a copy of his or her training schedule after signing up for a race? Don’t blindly follow an “beginner” training schedule or string together a bunch of “race-specific” workouts and assume it’s going to put you on the proper path to the finish line. Start by identifying the specific demands of the race or event (i.e., “the project”) you’ve chosen to pursue and work on developing a plan that addresses those demands while taking your goals, experience level and lifestyle into account.

— Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done. Before developing a training plan or for you or your athletes, laying out workouts, or hiring a coach to help you take care of all that stuff, do your homework and ask yourself a series of critical questions, including (but not limited to): What the hell did I just get myself into? What’s a good goal for this race or adventure? How far away am I from that goal currently? What’s it going to take to close that gap? How much time do I have to work with? What does the course entail? What weather conditions will I likely face? Who am I competing against? What went well last time I attempted this race or something like it? What didn’t go so well? And the list will go on depending who you are and what you’re trying to do. Use the answers to these critical questions to better understand the scope of what you’ve committed to so you can choose the appropriate tools—or seek the right guidance—to get the job done.

There’s a ton of great stuff in Berkun’s book that has a wider application outside the business realm. I’ll leave you with another of my favorite “coaching-applicable” tidbits that you can apply to your own training and/or coaching practice:

“Some companies, including Google, insist on having metrics to evaluate any decision, goal or feature. Despite the popularity of this belief, it’s easy to get lost in the the very metrics that help you find your way.”

Substitute “coaches” or “athletes” for “companies” in the above quote and it holds just as true. As training-related technology continues to improve and evolve, runners can track just about anything, from pace, distance and heart rate, to power, cadence, ground-contact time, vertical oscillation and a whole lot more. You can take all that data, throw it into a few fancy charts or some cool-looking graphs and use it to drive all of your training decisions. And while understanding, evaluating and improving upon these metrics can help you take your running performance to the next level, it can just as easily limit it if you’re not careful. It’s easy—and not uncommon—for many coaches and athletes to get lost in the weeds of these numbers and use them as a crutch rather than the tool they’re intended to be. Athletes are not robots and training does not always follow a repeatable and predictable formula. Remember to regularly check in with yourself or your athletes, get an honest, subjective assessment of how you (or they) are feeling and responding to workouts, and don’t be afraid to say “f*ck the numbers” and trust your instincts when making training and racing-related decisions.

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