Sunday, May 15, 2011

Marcus Baur of Goalscape: guest post

Why the Visual Overview is Vital
For Success in Sport, Business and Life
Marcus Baur, Goalscape Software

As a professional sailor I desperately wanted compete at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.  I had already done quite well and had won a few national regattas; but had not had much success at top level.  The Olympics is a serious challenge and I was no likely candidate.  But I just loved sailing the exciting new boat that had been chosen for the next Games; and I was fanatically determined to sail against the world’s best sailors on one of the most beautiful stretches of water anywhere: Sydney Harbor.  So I set out on the journey with my sailing partner, neither of us having any idea what a roller-coaster ride it would be.

The challenge before us was complex.  The 49er was a new class of boat that hardly anybody could handle and we had very little experience to build upon.  We also knew we would have to take our racing skills and our physical fitness to completely new levels, as well as learning to sail the boat.  And on top of all that we had organized everything ourselves and raise the money for what to many seemed like a 4-year holiday.  Of course the reality was a lot of hard work with long days and plenty of ups and downs.  It was intense, but very rewarding because we were really focused on our shared dream goal – and we loved to sail the boat for hours at a time, day after day. 

We had incredibly long to-do lists, so it was frustrating and stressful trying to fit in everything we had to do each day.  I knew that if we were to reach our goal, we had to approach this challenge in a better way.  Setting the right priorities is easier said then done when entering uncharted territory: there always seemed too much to do and resources were scarce.  But the clock was ticking, so we had to prioritize if we were to achieve anything at all.

What I needed was a visual map to show the entire structure of the challenge: every goal and subgoal.  I wanted to fly over the landscape of goals and get the view from 30,000 feet: seeing all the goals at once and the connections between them.  What’s more I had to track our progress in every area so I could always see exactly where we were in order to decide what to do next.

So I came up with the Goalscape goal map.  A multi-level pie chart seemed to be the best way to break down the huge challenge into specific goals and subgoals in every area.  The circle represented the fact that our resources were limited: when we spent time, money and energy in one area, we could not spend it anywhere else.  
My first goalscape chart covered only the boat handling area, a specific part of sailing that is particularly important in the 49er class.

The boat is so difficult to sail that many international champions from other classes spent most of their time upside-down – and quite a few of them quit.  My goalscape displayed ALL the maneuvers we needed to perform during a race.  On the goal map we gave the most important maneuvers (those that contributed most to our success on the racecourse) the biggest slices. 

For each maneuver the goal was to perform it automatically without thinking about it, so that we had all our brain capacity available for strategic and tactical decisions.  And on each goal we marked our progress by filling in its slice, so we could literally see our skills improving all the time.

We soon realized that this system could also be used very effectively in other areas like fitness, gear testing and tuning for speed, or planning our logistics and financials. 
Being able to actually SEE the challenge like this certainly helped us to be better organized and to improve faster in our sailing: we climbed to the top of the world rankings and qualified to represent our country at the Olympic games.  So we achieved our first major goal!

As we progressed through our campaign, we had been re-evaluating our goals: changing the relative importance of each to match the requirements of the next phase.  By the time we arrived in Sydney we were set on winning a medal.