Project Management Lessons From Football

Football season returns for 2018 this week. We love the spectacle of the Sunday battles between helmeted gladiators. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes of a football game, from the stadium preparation to the broadcast to the teams’ gameplans and strategies. A tremendous amount of planning and execution is needed for every team, week in and week out. What separates the good football teams from the average often comes down to preparation and teamwork – and there’s plenty of lessons for a project manager in how successful teams earn their success.

Training Camp

The season starts in September, but the players are already hard at work during the summer getting into shape and learning the playbook. Players perform repetition after repetition under the hot summer sun until they’ve memorized exactly what they’ll be doing, and the team is operating as a unit together. Teamwork doesn’t just happen, after all – by working together time and time again, each member learns how to interact best with their teammates and what their particular role is. 

Preseason

The teams start to ease into game situations with four games that don’t count towards the season. Preseason games are a good way to test your strategy, see how the team is coming along, and give game experience to backup players. The preseason is a good way to give the team some experience, while creating momentum for the season ahead. Momentum is crucial for success, and good teams use the games in the preseason to give their players something to build on for the start of the season.

The Season

The main preparation is complete. The players know their playbook, are working together as a unit, and the challenge is on. Sixteen games over seventeen weeks will determine who has a chance at the glory of the Super Bowl and who goes home at the end of the season with nothing. Each team crafts a gameplan against their opponent for the week, but it comes down to willpower as much as strategy. Motivation is a key component of execution. Football, like project management, requires a team that buys in to the project and are motivated to succeed. And like you see, a sense of humor is often important to creating motivation.

Trick Plays

Sometimes you need to do something a little unorthodox to succeed. Something out of the box. A trick, or a gimmick. Whether a football game or a project, bucking the expected and changing things up can unlock the success you’re working towards.

Situational Awareness

If you’re going to avoid those “What are you DOING??!?” moments, you need to make sure every member of the team has perfect situational awareness. Whether you’re a football coach watching your quarterback run out the back of the end zone, or a project manager watching a team member blow by a deadline that creates a deadline cascade, it’s on you to ensure your team knows what situation they are in and what they need to do in that situation to succeed.

Responding To Mishaps

Things go wrong, both in football and in project management. You can sometimes not just overcome the mishap, but create something positive out of it. With situational awareness, a never-say-die attitude, and a team that doesn’t lose sight of the goal, you can turn a disaster into a net gain or benefit.

Pinch-Kicking

Football teams almost always roster one kicker – and when they get hurt, there’s a huge problem. Kicking is a specialty, a talent honed by years of practice and repetition. When the specialist is down, someone has to step in to fill the breach – versatility is crucial when you need to switch on the fly.

The Playoffs

The playoffs are do or die football – you win, or you go home. There’s little window for mistakes. Planning your strategy and executing it is paramount – either it all comes together or you all go home, short of your goal. When you’re in crunch time, your gameplan needs to be perfect and your team needs to execute without mistakes. Every little variable matters to your success.

The Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is perhaps the one football game each year you do not need to worry about motivation – the trophy is in the building, and everyone has dreamed of winning the Super Bowl since they were a child. With the Super Bowl, your strategy must be perfect. It will come down to which team is better prepared. Just like with project management, when you’re nearing the end, with momentum pushing you forward and your team firing on all cylinders, what will get you over the hump is your planning for delivery.