My son, Cayden (age 8), recently started playing soccer this year. He just competed in his first game and while his team didn’t win, they all had a lot of fun and were quite competitive. I cheered the team on and I even experienced a few ‘proud dad’ moments. The interesting thing about this game however, was that I found myself becoming anxious because of the way that the kids were playing the game. It was chaotic. It was like watching a blob of kids all chase the ball around. I even saw kids on the same team steal the ball from each other! Granted, they’re just learning, but there are a few takeaways that can be applied to project management (or the workplace in general).

  1. It takes the whole team to win.

Great leaders understand that it takes the whole team to win. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Even as an individual contributor, you are part of a team working together and your contributions add to the success of the whole. It is your actions that aggregate to great accomplishments. As a project manager, you engage and lead stakeholders and push for results that are in scope, cost, schedule, and quality. If any one person on the team fails to do their part, there is a risk of losing.

  1. Know your role.

In my son’s soccer game, there were moments when the defense played offense (forwards) and the forwards had to play defense. This meant that the kids were running around excessively and wore themselves out too quickly. It also enabled the other team to take advantage of the temporary gaps on the soccer field because players weren’t where they needed to be. Project managers need to know their role in the project and coach other team members in their role. If you fail to do this, you may experience excessive follow-up, dropped opportunities, and scope creep. You’ll also wear yourself out trying to ‘run all over the field’.

  1. Stand your ground.

There were many instances where the opposing team was able to drive through the defense. My son’s soccer team tried to stop the ball, but they occasionally did not stand their ground. They got scared and would back off just enough to let the player by. As a project manager, you also need to stand your ground. The risk is that others will introduce scope creep or ask for gold plating during the project. This is also why proper requirements gathering and communication is important. Project managers need to communicate what the scope is and push back, or even stop “the ball” when appropriate. This is easier said than done but it will be a valuable lesson to put into practice.

  1. Listen to your coach.

Did I mention that the soccer game was chaotic? My son’s coach was direct but gentle with the kids during the game and addressed each individual need along with the team’s needs. On the other hand, the opposing coach only had one volume, and that was level 10. It seemed to me and the other parents that he forgot that this is youth soccer and not Major League Soccer. The constant ‘firefighting’ of the coach confused the kids. Beyond that, it was annoying and unnecessary. There was one instance when he called (yelled) for one of the kids to hurry up and get off the field. “Run! I’m being serious, RUN!”. This kid continued to walk off the field because he had a hard time differentiating between the coaches normal and emergency voice. As project managers, we often play the role of coach for the project management team. Our interactions with the team and stakeholders should create trust and empathy, while also driving for positive results. As the PM ‘coach’ you also need to listen to the team’s verbal and emotional communications, and learn to communicate appropriately.

  1. Hustle!

You are not going to win a game by waiting for the ball to come to you. You cannot succeed by standing idly by. Surprisingly, all the players in my son’s soccer game ran their heart out. Occasionally, there would be one player against five because the other players failed to hustle and help the team out. As a project manager, you need to learn the balance of pushing for results while being patient with others. I remember a project where it felt that all I did was host the occasional follow-up meeting and then wait for others to do their part. The result of my idleness was a project that took twice as long to complete. Lesson learned.

Conclusion

My son will have many more practices and games. He will learn how to play as a team and that success will come as he learns to do the five things above . There are many things that a project manager can (should?) do to be successful, but these are what stood out to me from my son’s eventful soccer game. What stories do you have? I’d love to read how the above items impact your projects.

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Chad Higgins

Chad Higgins

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With 12 years of diverse project management experience, Chad brings a unique perspective to PMforToday.com. Whether it was at the start of his career as an ice cream store manager or more recently as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ITIL leader in the telecommunications arena, Chad has always zeroed in on the kinds of changes that make a business function more effectively. Chad's formal background in process improvement complements his seasoned project repertoire. He's never found a team or process that couldn't improve in some area, and Chad is a firm believer that a healthy company culture is fundamental to any process improvement initiative.

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