Virtual Races – A Model for Virtual Projects?

Maybe our projects should be more like virtual races.  In a virtual race, the organizers:

  • Come up with a race idea and a plan to make it happen
  • Set a timeframe and define contributions needed from participants and what they will get in return
  • Invite people to participate and sign up those who want to get involved
  • Give participants lots of flexibility and make it easy for them to contribute on their own terms
  • Track incremental progress, keep participants posted about how things are developing, and make adjustments and provide incentives as things evolve
  • Celebrate what got done and send people medals.

This seems like it could be an efficient way to run a project if you had some flexibility about what could happen.  It would be a virtual project.

Nerd HerdMarcia and I ran (walked) our first virtual race, the “May the Fourth (Be With You) 5K” put on by Nerd Herd Running.  My daughter, Joelle, and her husband, Mike, are two of the founding members of Nerd Herd Running.  The group was formed by runners who love to do Disney races as part of organizations who raise funds to fight cancer and support other good causes.  But, organizing, paying, and preparing for the Disney races is a big deal.  So, Nerd Herd Running leveraged their nerdiness to start a virtual race series with nerdy themes to support

At first I thought “That’s not a real race.”  I mean, a real race is about a bunch of people getting together, starting at the same time, and finishing at the same place.  Someone wins, and everyone else doesn’t except they might win their age group.  There are lots of arrangements: streets are closed, courses are marked, food and drink are provided, people announce and time and organize some more, porta-potties are provided, and even speeches are made.  That’s why people go to the race, right?  They go for the spectacle and ceremony.  The extra cost, planning, work, and imposition on others have to be part of it.  Right?

Maybe not in every case.  Virtual races meet many needs without nearly as much cost, hassle, and structure.  I interviewed Joelle to learn why she likes virtual races and how Nerd Herd Running is doing with theirs.

Joelle says that virtual races are about social media.   People connect with them via Facebook or Pinterest or other social media places.  Her organizing group is also connected the same way.  They live in different places around the country.  They use Skype, text, and email to divide up the organizing and setup and tracking tasks.  They used a web service provider to give people a way to sign up.  As the race evolved, they created prizes and new incentives to participate.  As the race is a trilogy – there’s the Happy Birthday Harry Potter race in July and the Banned Books Week race in September – they’ve been able to be flexible with those who missed the May 4th race but still want to be recognized for all three events.  You can’t do that for a “real” race.  You can’t let someone run after it’s already over.

But, that’s the point.  The virtual race doesn’t offer all the value of a real race, but it offers a lot of it.  Joelle likes them because:

  • You can run when the weather is nice
  • You don’t have to get up really early or travel to get to the event
  • You can run with your friends
  • You meet interesting people and share pictures and stories via social media
  • You get a race bib and a medal, even a T-Shirt if you pay extra
  • You can do more of them because they are less expensive and more flexible
  • You combine with others to raise money for good causes.

So far, Nerd Herd Running has raised over $10,000 for their charity on their first event.  People are signing up, sending in their times and pictures, and looking forward to more events in the future.  If race so that you train and set a goal, get a medal or shirt, run with friends, and do it for yourself and a good cause, then virtual races are an efficient and effective way to get what you need.  It’s “lean.”

So, now I go back to project manager mode again.  In my organization, we are really emphasizing being “lean.”  Lean is a philosophy that builds on the Toyota Production System.  It’s about having standard processes and continually improving them to drive out “waste.”  Waste is found in steps that don’t directly add value.  A lean process is one which minimizes the steps between the need and fulfilling it.  The virtual race is very lean.  Those delivering it provide value with very little waste.  They don’t have to mark courses, stop cars, provide food, etc.  They give you a goal, a timeframe, a process, a cost, and a reward, and you do the rest.  It cost them less to put on the race and they can be more flexible to respond to new opportunities.

So, what if we had a project that could be done in pieces, is time flexible, is something people support but have only inconsistent opportunities to contribute to, can be organized via the web and some simple setup steps, and grows in value as people are able to contribute?  Could we take a more virtual approach to this project?  I think we can.  I’m working on one now.  I will let you know how it goes.  Let me know if you’ve done a virtual project.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

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