If you follow NASCAR, you’re familiar with the term “fuel mileage race.” For those who aren’t NASCAR fans, a fuel mileage race is one where at the end of the race, it’s not necessarily the fastest car that wins. Instead, the NASCAR team that has best employed a fuel-saving and racing strategy allowing it to stay on the track when others have to leave the track to refuel with only a few laps left wins the race. This phenomenon happens based on:

  • The length of the race
  • Typical patterns of racing and caution periods
  • Fuel mileage of the cars

The team that takes advantage of devising and carrying out a solid strategy in these types of situations has used accurate historical insights, preparedness, solid decisions, and stellar implementation to prevail even though it don’t possess the capabilities that usually decide the winner.

How does a fuel mileage race strategy applies to project management?

If you’re wondering what this has to do with project management, reread the previous paragraph.

That description directly applies to situations where multiple internal or external teams are working together to deliver on a major project. It’s rare that everyone involved in an extended project team is the absolute best in their own field. Smaller players on the extended team also often have to deal with a timeline not devised around their delivery processes or capabilities. Nevertheless, if they want to succeed for an internal or external client’s benefit (and their own success), they have to be performing strongly at the end of the project.

7 Steps to Winning a Fuel Mileage Race Project

Based on that comparison, here are 7 steps NASCAR teams take for winning a fuel mileage race that a project team should be thinking about to succeed in a comparable “fuel mileage race” project.

1. Know your expected process efficiency

In a NASCAR race, miles per gallon is key. For a project team, it’s knowing not just the total hours you’ll be investing in a project, but understanding how long each process step typically takes. Knowing that, always look for new ways to remove steps or reduce time to improve your process efficiency.

2. Get off sequence strategically when it makes sense

A NASCAR team will try to fill its car with fuel at off times compared to other teams to gain an advantage in a fuel mileage race. A project team can look for ways to accelerate early or mid-project deliverables to get off cycle and save time for more complex tasks later in the project.

3. Save resources everywhere you can

A NASCAR driver may drive slower or even shut off the engine during certain periods to save fuel. Project teams can take a comparable approach, looking for ways to minimize revisions or unnecessary status meetings; another approach is to handle meetings online vs. traveling to them in-person.

4. Fully exploit your past work

NASCAR teams keep extensive notes on previous fuel miles race performance and will often bring the same car to a track again when it’s been successful. A project team should be looking for ways to build from suitable work that already exists or repurpose previous output to still deliver successfully with greater efficiency.

5. Monitor what and how the other players on your extended project team are doing

Even if you’re using a different strategy, your team still needs to be coordinated with every other party involved on the project team. Keep a pulse on how your team's dependability, performance, and timeline management are coordinating with others.

6. Anticipate opportunities and challenges ahead of time

Ask questions and go to school on similar work you’ve done or how your internal or external client typically behaves during an extended project. Try to anticipate where timelines will change based on natural delays or rapid pushes to accelerate progress.

7. Be ready for a last-minute twist or turn

For as much strategizing as a NASCAR race team using a fuel mile race strategy will do, something can happen late in the race to completely upset the strategy that’s worked nearly the entire race. Smart project teams should be thinking ahead to what options they’ll have available when projects take unexpected turns. You always want to have an option and room to adapt when the unexpected (at least what others didn’t expect) happens.

Do you see how fuel mileage racing strategy applies to project you’ve supported?

Do you see how this concept has (or could have) helped your project team perform better? What strategies do you use to deliver exceptionally on projects where you aren’t working with the best resources? - Mike Brown


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