in Business Strategy, Digital Strategy, IT+Strategy, Speaking

Top 4 things that I learned from Olympic swimmer about Technology Strategy

One of the great things that I enjoy in consulting is meeting and working with people with diverse and exciting backgrounds.

Raja Pabba and Anton McKee

Recently, I have had the pleasure of working with Anton (Anton McKee), Olympic swimmer who represented Iceland in 2012 and 2016 Olympics. I have never met an Olympian before and was intrigued to learn on what makes an Olympic athlete. I sat down with him to learn his experience and preparation and felt that much of what he said is directly applicable to crafting and executing a well thought out Technology Strategy. In this post, I’d like to share excerpts from the discussion and how they link to Technology Strategy development.

  1. Have a swim strategy for the “Meet” and commit to it – Only worry about the controllable variables – What differentiates a winning championship swimmer is the intellectual exercise of coming up with the strategy that aligns with “Meet” (championship event). Like other physical sports some have genetic advantages that puts them ahead of the pack, however it is not the only thing that makes them a winner. Anton says, a solid plan that is committed fully and working on areas to improve over time is the key to winning championships (genetic advantage is a plus). We can apply this insight to crafting the technology strategy. Swim strategy varies based on the type of “Meet” determined by length of the course. Similarly Technology strategy should consider the timing of the strategic intent. Tactics for short term shot in the arm are markedly different from those targeting longer term. Executives need to conduct the intellectual exercise of how different variables impact their plan including stress testing edge/boundary scenarios (good one would be to think of scenario where current competitive advantage disappears overnight). Then focus more and emphasize on the variables they can control, which predominantly will be internally focused. Once strategy is defined, Board and executives need to commit to the strategy not only in approving the plan but also following up with funding and resources. Technology executives should continually refine their plan as they get feedback to improve. This constant refinement by purposely seeking feedback will determine the range and scope of success.
  2. Which lane are you in the race? – Don’t get competition get into your head – This element is more to do with human psychology than rational approach. In swimming excepting the either end lanes, you will have real time feedback on how your opponent is performing. This may impact your mid-swim mindset and you will attempt to alter your strategy which is never advised, according to Anton. This goes back to first point above that commit to strategy and think of executing well. This directly speaks to technology strategy as it gets altered based on what competition is doing in the market place. While refining strategy is core tenet of successful execution, it is the fact that you cannot abandon your original strategy and change course without going through rigorous assessment of changes. If scenarios were development well (in step 1 above), then the impact should already be factored into the strategy.
  3. Calibrate and continuously seek feedback to improve – Know what to measure and adjust training plan – Based on the “Meet”, Anton said the metrics you track to improve your progress varies. Every performance sport has time as a key measure, however the way you achieve superior performance on time is not dependent on how well you manage time but rather other things that you do that get you the time advantage. Swimming fast may not be enough, you need to manage your heart rate/endurance to be able to conserve energy to draw when needed for burst of performance. Similarly, right metrics need to be established that measure not only the efficiency of strategy execution but also the effectiveness of it. Traditional metrics may not cut it. Increase in velocity across the chain and key value metrics (measured financially) are few ideas to consider.
  4. Improve your swim, one small goal at a time – Have training regimen with incremental smaller goals – Preparing for Olympics is a multi-year process and the coach creates a training plan that has small goals spread across the timeline, says Anton. He says, without these small goals it is challenging to know where you stand and also promotes motivation when faced with fatigue and occasional disillusionment (caused when it takes long effort / time to see the results). These goals have to be built incrementally to sustain the benefits rather one big goal. Technology strategy and its implementation should follow similar pattern. Execution plan / road map should include milestones / goals that strike a balance with risk and reward that can be sustained over a period of time. This should be applicable at the initiative or project level as well. Granted, agile approach to implementation certainly increases the pace of execution, however considerable thought should be invested in determining incremental goals that are worth sharing and celebrating.

While developing a sound technology strategy is grounded in using proven frameworks and methodologies, sometimes other disciplines (like swimming) can offer inspiration to fine tune the craft. I have shared my reflection on the ideas shared by Anton and am curious to hear your (reader) thoughts? Please share your comments below or message me directly if you’d like to discuss further.



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