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Project Managing Like Bill Belichick

By Jamey Beland, Project Manager, PMP, LogicsOne

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that being a project manager leading a virtualization or IT project is identical to coaching a professional team the way Bill Belichick coaches the Patriots (sorry New Yorkites).  Hear me out on this.   A project manager and a coach each have the responsibility of delivering on the objectives of the stakeholder and owner. Each plans their strategy and objectives prior to starting the game.  Each has to make adjustments to the plan and strategy depending on circumstances and how the project or game progress (sorry Eagles fans).  Each has to work with some unique personnel in the project; (Divas don’t just exist in sports.)  Each has to lead a multifaceted and talented team to achieve a goal.  Ultimately each game is a basic project or at a minimum, a phase in a larger project which is to win the Lombardi trophy.

In coaching and in Project Managing, the key basic principles are the same; setting expectations, having the players or project team provide input, and facilitating communication.  My colleague Craig Mullen hit on this in a previous posts: Active Project Management; Facilitate, Don’t Dictate.   Think about it, if someone does not know what is expected from him or her, how can they realistically do their job? You can’t win a game if you don’t know the rules.  This applies to the coaches knowing their role, just as much as the players knowing their role.  A PM’s role is to ensure that the each player clearly understands the expectations of the stakeholders and sponsors, just as a coach must be in sync with the owner and GMs. Furthermore, the PM or coach is responsible for ensuring the players and project members clearly understand their roles and responsibilities; this is done through project charters, project plans, scope objectives, and thorough communication prior to any project execution.  This is a key reason the Krafts have done so well owning the Patriots.  Each player on the Patriots knows what is expected out of them; as the Pat’s saying goes, “Just Do Your Job.”  The ones that get out of line a bit too much, might as well pack their bags (i.e. Randy Moss not playing the Patriot Way)!

Whether football team owners or project owners, the good ones seem to clearly understand the need for good project management and not let a player run the team  or an engineer run the project.  Just as in the early years of football and professional sports, it was not uncommon to have a player / coach running the team.  Similarly, in the earlier and debatably less complicated days of IT projects, it was not uncommon to have a Sr. Engineer double up and also be the project manager.

Just because someone is a great owner/director or engineer/player, it does not make them suitable or capable of coaching a team or managing a project.  Robert Kraft is a great football team owner with deep understanding of how the game is played, however, he looks at the bigger picture: the stadium, personnel, marketing and ultimately the bottom line.  Thus he has Belichick actually run the team. And it’s why Tom Brady is not put in a player/coach position. Tom may be good at QBing, however, can he realistically coordinate and ensure all positions on offense are focusing on what they need to do as well as his responsibilities?  Never mind the Defense,  Just as a CIO or Director of IT certainly has an overarching knowledge of the game being played in IT, but to actually direct it would take their eye off of the proverbial ball of the other aspects of the business that needs to be overseen.  As any professional knows, focus on your job and do it well; that’s the Patriot’s way.

In a football game the 1st possession and maybe the 2nd possession plays are already predetermined, however, as the game progresses the strategy adjusts based on previous success as well as what the other team is giving you.  Just as in a project, you initially setup the work breakdown structure, risk management plan, communication plan, etc. but as the project moves forward there typically needs to be some adjustments made based on progress, issues, new information etc. This is where agile project management is best: being able to plan, execute and monitor and control iterations in a typical waterfall project are key..  If Belichick realizes that the opponent is taking out Wes Welker, Gronk, and the other receivers before they really get off the line and the passing game isn’t there, he and Josh McDaniels (Offensive Coord) will look at moving the ball maybe by running a bit more, or doing screen passes.  As in virtualization projects, if there are roadblocks in the initial plan, alternatives need to be determined on how to move that project “ball.”  Basically, just as in football, there needs to be flexibility in an IT project.

Each project is a game with a beginning and end.  It’s crucial to have someone that not only specializes in working with different players’ needs, but who can also incorporate their input into the game and ensures all players understand their roles and responsibilities.  Add to that clear communication, it just becomes a matter of execution to win each game, I mean IT project, and have a successful season.

And though coaching the Patriots and Managing an IT infrastructure project is ALMOST the same, we do need to figure out how to get a project manager paid like Belichick…oh, and maybe some cheerleaders for the project?

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