Skydiving is a great sport. But honestly, trying to get everyone on the plane, on time is an even greater challenge! A real-time project with the shortest possible lifecycle ever. Every load has to go into the air and failure is not an option. What you can learn from this? A lot!

Planning, performance, stakeholder management, teamwork, communications, change management, expectation management and most important… keep calm, learn from mistakes, continuous improvement, trust the team and get on with it.

Even more special… the customers and suppliers are standing right in front of you, so whatever happens, fix it with a smile 🙂

Did you ever wonder how it works behind the scenes of a dropzone? Well, this is your chance. I will share what I learned during my first days at the manifest at Nationaal Paracentrum Teuge and what I discovered that is very much relevant for project management!

First, what does the manifest do? Customer service, planning, keeping a helicopter view. Sounds very much like a Portfolio Office. The Manifest is the one place where everything gets together. Here are some examples of activities and in brackets the project management perspective:

  • Booking in people who want to skydive. This varies from training to solo skydivers and teams. Welcoming the customers, doing the paperwork, maintaining the booking system, planning the loads of the aircrafts, scheduling the skydivers that want to be on it on a specific load, answering the emails and phone calls for customers who want to make a booking (onboarding, COE role, planning, coordination, admin)
  •  Scheduling the resources, the loads, material (resource management)
  • Keeping ears and eyes open for any instructions of the Manager and what is happening around you (communications, oversight
  • Being aware when the aircraft needs to refuel (resources, planning, timing). Notice when is the weather changing and are we on hold. (risk, environment, stakeholder management)
  • You also have to know who is an expert in what and it is continuously matching multiple elements to get the right person in the right place at the right time. Sounds familiar?
  • At the same time it all has to be done efficiently and effectively. When a client for a tandem jump comes in you book them with or without a camera man. You check who is available. Ensure all customers for the next load are being briefed by a tandem master. How many tandem masters are available. Who can do the camera? Is there a special request we need to take into account? (resources, assurance, process)

Did I make any mistakes the first few days? Sure did.
Learn from my lessons learned! 

One person’s mistake is costing many people’s time
The impact of any kind of mistake at the manifest is immediately visible. For instance not being prepared for a load on time means getting questions like ‘am I on the next load?’, ‘who am I skydiving with?’, ‘how do I spell this name for the certificate’. Which means more communications is needed then which is a waste of time and helping getting it resolved as soon as possible.

Every load is a new opportunity to improve
I can assure you you’ll have a quick learning curve this way! Whatever didn’t go too well I would definitely make sure I would do it right or find a way to improve to make life easier for my colleagues, myself and to add value to a smooth process and positive environment.

Communicate and communicate immediately
Everyone is busy. Like I appreciated a reminder by the tandem master that he is available for a briefing so we could get the load ready. They also appreciate it when there is a change in who is doing what being communicated immediately. Being brief and bold is not an issue. It is not an office environment where you have time to think how am I going to tell this next week. There is no time for that. Apparently pressure is in this case a time saver. You say it as it is and get on with it.

Listen to the stakeholders
Being new to this role I learned mostly from the stakeholders and their advice. At the same time I enjoy figuring out what would help speed up the process and help both the suppliers, customers and myself.

Back to project management
Doesn’t it work the same way? Although you probably have more time for your project the impact is the similar. It may just be less visible because you don’t have your customers and suppliers right in front of you. You may meet them bi-weekly for instance and have more delay before you know you are doing the right thing for instance. 

Should every cycle be as short as possible? It depends on what you want to achieve. But a ‘cooking session’ is sort of like this, a workshop works this way as well when you have all the stakeholders in the room. And using ‘sprints’ as Agile fans like to do looks a bit like it as well…

So far my lessons learned and observations, but I’m much more curious about yours. Love to hear your examples and experience. Leave a comment and get in touch!

If you have the chance visit a drop zone and see for yourself how amazing it is how it works. Are you more adventurous and ready for the skydive experience? I can recommend my home drop zone Nationaal Paracentrum Teuge where in September the European Championships will take place as well as the Dutch Record Bigway skydiving. Prefer Southern Europe? Go to Skydive Espana. Have a great time and blue skies…

Enjoy!