Our whole planet is abuzz with Euro 2016 presently, and why not. Football is one of the most loved sports in the world, enjoyed by all generations. As a team sport, it thrills, surprises and enthralls spectators like no other.

I always felt there are strong parallels between football and the project management discipline. In this blog, I aim to draw out 4 most valuable project management lessons we can learn from this great game.

4 valuable project management essons from football (soccer)

Lesson 1: A good plan is half the battle won

A team that plans better is stronger than a team full of stars on any given day. They study their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, align the players with the right skills in the right positions and play out their game plan down to the last detail. Once on the field, players demonstrate a single-minded pursuit in the quest to achieve the goal…or goals (Sorry couldn’t resist). Good coaches excel at managing the available resources and extracting great performances from them consistently.

Insight: Playing a game of football very much like taking up a project. To achieve success, you need a good coach (read project manager), a team with the right skills, a non – negotiable end objective and above all, a detailed execution plan that leaves nothing to chance.

Lesson 2: Teamwork trumps star power

Imagine seeing a football game with no passing. You are not going to see any goals in that game for sure. To get the ball 100 yards across to the goalpost is just not possible without deft teamwork. Defenders ensure they win the ball back from the opposition and prevent them from scoring, while Midfielders do a lot of the running around since they are responsible for defending and creating opportunities up ahead. The forwards have their jobs cut out for them; latch on to the opportunities and convert them to goals. The recipe for a good game of football is rock solid defense with a good dose of opportunities being created midfield and the star strikers scoring breathtaking goals. That’s 90 minutes well spent for spectators.

Insight: Team dynamics in companies don’t differ too much from football. You can have all the star players you want, but without teamwork, you don’t get to your goals. Successful projects, like good games, are often attributed to clinical execution; by teams that work in unison to achieve the outlined objectives. Good teams don’t happen by chance, they are built that way; with culture, leadership skills and an undying passion for excellence. Project Managers, therefore, need to go beyond managing and graduate to being leaders.

Lesson 3: Nip a risk in the bud, or there won’t be anything left to play for

When things don’t go as planned during the game, good coaches and captains are quick to deploy course correction with the right substitutions and revised gameplan. Their teams respond to the situation and step up their game to ensure they still have a chance at winning. The key is to spot the problems early on and revise the strategy quickly. In a 90 minutes game, the speed of thought and action can be the deciding factor. At the end of the day, the team that has a finger on the pulse of the game wins it. How many times have we seen popular teams take their opponents lightly and ending up on the losing side?

Insight: Risk management needs to be infused into project management discipline across the lifecycle, to spot risks and corrective action in time. Effective risk management needs intelligent monitoring systems that and capture and report project, budget, resource level data. As coaches & captains would in the game, project managers need to monitor, raise flags and bring in the cavalry where required.

Lesson 4: Play the game well, on and off the field

You would think that during the game, players need to worry only about striking goals and preventing the opposition from doing the same. But in reality, there is a lot more. There are referees on field controlling proceedings, awarding free kicks, penalties, monitoring offsides, and reprimanding players with green, yellow and red cards. One wrong move could get players sent off the field, and that could affect the outcome of the game in a big way. In the case of the English Premier League, coaches are very powerful and have a lot of say in player selection. Then there are team owners, the media, and the fans. Players today walk on to the field knowing they need to manage them all well to have a long, fruitful career.

Insight: In the organization parlance, project managers and team members need to be adept at managing stakeholders within the company and customers. Keeping them updated about the status of projects, potential risks and deadlines are crucial for project success. For this to happen, organizations need to deploy the right project management systems and encourage a data-driven culture. Today’s project manager cannot afford to be a coordinator anymore. To stay in the game and win it, he/she needs to be a leader who can lead teams, manage stakeholders and make data-oriented decisions.

Whether you are a player on the field or an employee on the floor, the game is about setting goals and going the distance to achieve it. Arm yourself with a good measure of discipline and commitment and you are destined for the Hall of Fame.


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