Project teams are very like sports teams. Is your team amateur or professional? As the coach, are you providing your team with a clear, well thought, practical game plan that they understand and will follow? Or are you exhorting them at the top of your lungs to "work harder"?

Project Managers – what’s your game plan?

Are you a professional or an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to managing and coaching your project team?

The coach in an amateur or school team (if there is one at all) is there to exhort the players to greater heroic achievement. The game plan is “kick butt!” or “watch the defense” or “don’t let them score”. In an amateur business, you often hear “work smarter”, “watch your costs” or “I don’t want to see a single sale lost”.

Amateurs win with huge doses of energy and enthusiasm, quick thinking brilliant “heros” on the field and threats of being dropped from the team. And sometimes that is enough. Especially when you’re playing another amateur.

Unfortunately for most South African companies, a lot of first-world competitors are professionals.

What do professional teams do differently?

Professional teams obviously have access to the best people and the best equipment. They have the best training methods, and a 24 hour focus on the game and how to improve it. And there is the financial backing to pay for it all.

Winning team start by assessing the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. Most companies do this – although often only once each year, and only with a few key players.

But knowing is not enough – winning teams then define and describe in detail exactly how they intend exploiting that weakness, and avoiding competing head on with the strengths.

Winning teams LEAD the game to be played in the way that suits them. And since the opposition will be doing the same thing, the players on the field need to understand both the plan and the specific tactics, to continually redirect the game back to THEIR game plan.

Remember it’s not always the richest, biggest teams that win. Often a professional team hires “heroes” from other teams – and still loses. What is missing?

What’s your coaching strategy?

Is your team amateur or professional? As the coach, are you providing your team with a clear, well thought, practical game plan that they understand and will follow? Or are you exhorting them at the top of your lungs to “work harder”?

Hey, You’re not a player, you’re a coach!

Perhaps the most important point: when it comes to the crunch, the game is won by the players not the coach. It is irrelevant how much the coach knows, or that he can see the problem from the sidelines (so can many amateur spectators). It is also no good if the coach goes onto the field, pushes the players aside and grabs the ball every time there is a crisis!

It’s the coach’s job to outline the plan

The plan needs to be so integral to the players thinking and actions, that in the crisis of the moment he or she still knows what to do. If you think the business world changes quickly, try an ice hockey game or a rugby match. The direction can turn around in a few seconds. But a good game plan not only allows for change, the players themselves understand the big picture, so they can respond quickly and in a co-ordinated way.

A game plan that lies unread in the bottom drawer is just an expensive paperweight.

A business needs a game plan. It needs to understand its competitors, exploit their weaknesses and avoid competing against their strengths. The team needs to know how to mitigate its own weaknesses, and make sure it understands what strengths are leading to success with customers and shareholders.

Your objective is to force your competitors and industry follow YOUR game plan.

But you can’t lead if you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you (and your industry) are going, you will be relegated to following someone else’s agenda.

Go on, share your game plan!

Like the professional sports team – the game plan cannot remain in the heads of the top management team – with the rest of the staff operating on a “need to know” basis. It may make the management team feel safe and in control, and give them ammunition to criticise from the sidelines, but it won’t win the game.

Is it efficient for your project team to be forced to come to the sidelines every few minutes to ask what they can and can’t do. Yes, it makes the coaches feel all-powerful and clever – “look how they can’t do without me and the place falls apart when I’m not here”. Give your team AS MUCH INFORMATION AS THEY CAN HANDLE and let them use their considerable skills to win the game.

Remember, it’s the players on your business team who score the goals – not the coach

This is true even though the coach was one of the great players of the past. By ensuring that ALL your players understand your project game plan, they will be able to identify environmental changes quickly, and know how to respond appropriately and in a co-ordinated way.

Keeping Score

Sports teams are fortunate – scorekeepers are provided free to measure the score. And the media provides a neat set of indicators on “possession”, “territory” or breakdowns of scoring. Projects are not that fortunate – they need to define and measure their own performance indicators, and then assess what led to success. And project teams need to keep winning over the season, not just individual games.

Game plans can operate at a holistic business level, or at a departmental or project level. In all cases you need to

  • know your objectives (how will the business as a whole profit from this initiative)
  • know your capabilities as well as the core in-competences that need to be addressed
  • have a set of plans in place to deal with in-competences quickly and efficiently.
  • have a defined set of performance measures in place to know how you’re doing against the plan
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