Product Engineering is like Marathon Training

Marathon training and product development have a lot of similarities. They should be both treated and executed as time bound and goal oriented projects. To be successful, you need a lot of flexibility, introspection and continuous improvisation.

Author: Girish Deshpande, Technical Director at MindTree
Republished with permission. Original publication:

Close to 38,000 runners ran Mumbai marathon today, the greatest marathon event in India.  As I could not run this marathon due to health issues I had plenty of time to think about similarities between two of my core interests -Marathon running and product development. The below is the what it takes to train and run a marathon.

  1. Planning & preparation is the key- Better the preparation better the results. You can take readymade training plans/templates and customize to your circumstances. For planning you break the running system into its parts. Target and strengthen specific systems of the body that are needed for long distance running. The conditioning of every vital system is the key.  Marathon runners plan their training using preferred training system. Keeping the morale, executing the day’s task and staying the course months at a time are the key. Another key learning is if you cannot run on the appointed day then you don’t try to compensate for it  the next day. It doesn’t work. You only get injured and impact your chances of meeting the race day deadline.
  2. Pace yourself for success. It is marathon and not sprint. You cannot burn out in the very first mile. You decide your pace based on your ability & conditions. Not rush through from the word Go because someone else is moving ahead of you. You cannot rush through the first phase. You will actually take longer to complete the race. If you maintain the steady tempo then you have better chances of crossing the finish line. In fact many elite runners run the reverse spilt. They run the first half slower than the second. Exact opposite of amateurs. Thinking of pacing…You also need to break down the larger goal into manageable chunks like running the next 5 Km stretch. The successful results at every juncture will keep you pushing towards the finish line.
  3. Keep the meticulous records throughout the training preparation all the way up to the race day.  Runners regularly update their records, look at their metrics to validate their progress, see what is working and what is not and then fine tune their training plans. The records can tell them which system needs strengthening. It is like course correction.
  4. Although you train the body it is really the mental aspect that is important. Tools like running shoes, Garmin GPS, sports drink and training methods can help achieve the goal. But they are not enough. The mental qualities needed during training and on the race day are – self motivation, self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-belief. After Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than 4 Minute, many runners achieved the same feat. Something that had eluded the humanity till then. Now it became a new normal.
  5. Running is very intrinsic. It is funny people spend so much on shoes, hotel, travel (road trip) to the venue just to subject them to so much physical abuse for hours during the training and the race. Most run for the sake of running. That is their purpose. That is their reason. They compete against themselves. Against their previous performance. They try to better their performance every time. Most toil for years to excel. They are their conscious keepers. That is the reason when they complete the race they experience runner’s high. The intrinsic sense of achievement which is better than any extrinsic reward.

In marathon training and racing the ultimate goal is to finish strong. To cross the finish line smiling. Rest is just details about how to achieve it.

I could not help but find remarkable similarity between successful Marathon training and product development. Both need to be treated and executed as time bound and goal oriented projects. Both call for lot of flexibility, introspection and continuous improvising.