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Can Project Managers Learn Lessons From Football Managers?
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Can Project Managers Learn Lessons From Football Managers?

From my ten plus years of teaching MS Project and Project Management, it seems that a great way to learn on how to be a good project manager is to learn from the best; those who have done it before and have learned to avoid the pitfalls associated with strains on timelines, costs and quality.

One of my favourite authors on the subject of Project Management and leadership is John C Maxwell and I speak of him in my courses and sometimes will even show a clip or two to emphasize a point he has made about any of the three aspects mentioned above.

While I can go on and on about John, for this article I want to single out football managers for the job they do as Project Managers. Football managers must balance all three areas. They have a timeline each week to meet, with different physical and mental activities designed to prepare the squad for the next match. They have costs and constraints which need to be maintained so that a club can survive. And, they need to provide a quality of football which will keep supporters and revenue coming to the club.

An example of this comes from this recent discussion I had with a student in one of my MS Project courses and we were speaking specifically about Jose Marinho. He had seen a tele special about Marinho and was quite interested because the interviewees were all from people who had worked with Jose; this was not Jose speaking about himself. He can certainly do this well enough on his own!

He said not one of those interviewed had anything bad to say (I am assuming the quotes were not cut from the tape) about the man or his abilities to lead football teams. For those of you not familiar with Jose Marinho, he has managed teams such as Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and now Real Madrid.

No matter where he has been he has been successful and at the top of his league. I liken him in some ways to Larry Brown to those of you familiar with basketball in the US, both for their charisma and their moving about from team to team.

While Jose clearly has the charisma and the ability to motivate, the 'project management' qualities of a football manager of detail and measurement can sometimes be overlooked during the long season of 37 matches, not to mention the Champions League and League Cups.

My student mentioned this because he remembers a scene at the end of a match between Chelsea and team from a lower division. While Chelsea could show up with the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba and Cole, and probably have won the match by the half, it was really the scene at full time that caught his attention.

When the opposing manager asked Jose about the way he defended the opposition and how he just knew where his players would be marking Chelsea or moving the ball forward, Jose just smiled and gave him a 50-page dossier about this man's opposing team. The paper outlined each of his players’ strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and competencies. The opposing manager said they never did this at his club.

My student was very impressed. Project management is much the same as what we see in football. Knowing your team’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and competencies can go a long way in providing the service or product you intend for your clients.

Certainly, it is helpful if you have the charisma or personality to keep the team motivated, but we all aren't Jose Marinho or even Alex Ferguson for that matter. Detailing is such an important key to being an effective project manager.

The final item to mention on being a good manager is the ability to get all the team working together. It seems the number of tweets getting footballers in trouble with their managers (see James McLean and Giovanni Trappatoni for an example) is a case in point.

Good communication by the project manager is absolutely essential in keeping your team together. Ambiguous communication or communicating with some of the team and not the others provides a window for deflating team spirit.

So whether you want to be the next Jose as a PM or you just want to keep your team on track while keeping your clients happy, keep in mind that effective leadership and the detailed management certainly go hand in hand.


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