The Super Bowl of Project Management is Literally the Super Bowl

Some of us here at Trackolade are big sports fans, and one of the things we love most about sports is watching highly skilled individuals perform at their very best as a team. If you watched the Super Bowl this year, there were lots of lessons to be had for any project team. Here are the five we felt were most valuable:

1.     You can never underestimate the importance of clear communication.

Safety

On the very first play of the game, Manny Ramirez snapped the ball while Peyton Manning was trying to change the call at the line of scrimmage. The ball went sailing over Manning’s head into the end zone. The result was a safety, and Denver was off to a very bad start. On a later play, Julius Thomas broke off a route too soon, Manning threw to where Thomas was supposed to be, and in his place was a Seahawks defender who was more than happy to collect an interception.

Manning usually excels at making quick decisions and then informing his teammates about the change. He has systems in place that allow him to do that and keep everyone on the same page. The Broncos’ crisp execution allowed them to set practically every all-time record for offense this year: most touchdowns and most yards in a season. The miscommunications in this game only showed how vital that skill is – the mistakes it caused interrupted their momentum from the very start.

Anytime you have a group of people working together, you have to have a way of communicating plans and assignments and making sure that everyone is delivering what their teammates need, when they need it. This becomes especially important when you have to make a lot of updates due to changing conditions.

2.     Keep everyone involved.

NFL American football formation tactics

The close ally of communication is making sure everyone has something to do in contributing to a goal, and this was on full display in the Super Bowl.

A lot of the talk before the game was about the return of star receiver Percy Harvin, and his potential impact on the game. That kind of focus on one member of a team can cause the rest of the team to feel overlooked, but Russell Wilson threw the ball to nine different receivers – he kept everyone involved.

It’s nice to think that any member of a team will stay focused and ready to do their job, even if they’re not needed right now, but in reality, human nature is such that we react to stimulus and lose focus when there is none. If a member of a team gets regular reminders that they can be called on at any time, you better believe they’ll be more ready to answer the call than if they have nothing to do for long periods of time.

3.     Lead with the positive.

russell-wilson-champion

Almost any project involves providing feedback. Most people have a natural tendency to say what’s wrong with something – in fact, a lot of organizations believe that tearing people’s work down is synonymous with pushing them to be their best – but the Seahawks proved that positive feedback can be just as powerful as critical feedback.

The coach of the Seahawks has been called a “players coach” many a time, which is code in the NFL for “soft.” Practices are lighthearted – players have fun. At the same time, it’s serious fun – they compete and really push each other to show what they can do. The Seahawks also brought together a team with a raft of undrafted players, players drafted in the lower rounds, and castoffs from other teams. In other words, where other teams saw what these players couldn’t do, the Seahawks saw what they could do. And then they played to their strengths. Take Russell Wilson – most teams felt he was too short and couldn’t see the field well enough. What Wilson can do, though, is move with the ball and stay posed while keeping a play alive.

Players thrived on that positive attitude, and it brought out the best in them. Any project lead can do the same. When you give feedback to your team, put it in positive terms. Focus first on what’s right in the current work product and then talk about how it can be even better. Relate those improvements to the goal of the project.

This will keep your team inspired, and while it takes more discipline on your part to deliver feedback this way, it will pay off, because your team will put out the extra effort not because they have to, but because they want to.

4.     Give it your all, all the time.

Super Bowl Score

There were times in the Super Bowl where it looked like the Broncos simply weren’t playing that hard. On one play in particular, five Broncos players had a shot at stopping Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse. Two literally had him in their hands, and he spun away into the arms of another two defenders who still didn’t bring him down. One more had a chance and simply pulled up. Touchdown, Seahawks. On another touchdown, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin ducked under a Broncos defender.

The Seahawks on the other hand played every down like it was their last – their defense hit hard from the very first snap (at least the first snap in which the Broncos didn’t give away the ball) and wouldn’t give an inch. They never quit on a play, period.

Now you may think your work doesn’t involve actively fending off a 300-pound lineman who’s trying to stop you from sending an email or issuing a bid, but any project entails hundreds of little details, any one of which can result in a flawed outcome. If you’re writing code, an undocumented requirement can undermine a finished application. If you’re doing graphic design, a change in specification that doesn’t get passed along to a member of the team can result in an entire print run getting scrapped at high cost.

The only way to fight that is if everyone stays focused and brings their all every day. Use your project plan to make sure people know that every task counts, and then spend time making sure everyone’s excited and motivated for the task at hand.

5.     Stay focused on your goal.

GatoradeShower

For those watching closely before the game, Denver had all the telltale warning signs for a letdown. A lot of people were talking about Peyton Manning’s legacy, which presupposed that the Super Bowl wasn’t the most important thing at stake. Manning had gotten the regular season MVP award the day before. In the conference championship, the Broncos had faced the Patriots – Wes Welker’s former team and the team of Manning’s personal rival, Tom Brady. They looked like a team that felt they’d already won.

There was just one small problem: there was one more game to play, and awards and legacies weren’t going to have any bearing on the outcome of that game. Completing passes, sticking to assignments, blocking and tackling in that particular game – that’s what would matter in the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks had a philosophy all season of going 1-0 every week. When the team was being presented with the trophy for the NFC championship, Russell Wilson was asking Terry Bradshaw for advice on playing in the Super Bowl. Now that is what you call focus.

On any project, every day is day one – you have a choice to get closer to your goal or push it further away each and every day. Use your project plan to keep your team focused on the overall goal of the project and each individual step along the way. If people start worrying about things that don’t relate to your objective as a team, remind them of what’s important right now. Is someone worried about their role (their legacy, if you will) in the team? That may be a perfectly valid concern, but talk about it outside of the project and don’t let it get in the way. A failed project doesn’t help anyone.

We know a certain team that probably wishes they had realized that simple truth.

Did you watch the Super Bowl? Did you take away any lessons about teamwork? Feel free to chime in in the comments.

If project management was the furthest thing from your mind, we can relate to that, too. It was quite a game in and of itself – a dominant performance that people will hopefully remember for a long time to come.

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