Total football and project management

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Total football and project management

Think about your project management approach. In most organisations, the approach is pretty ‘top-down’. Whether you’re running a small agency where everyone knows everyone else, or you’re a huge multinational…

Think about your project management approach. In most organisations, the approach is pretty ‘top-down’. Whether you’re running a small agency where everyone knows everyone else, or you’re a huge multinational with a big PMO and employees across the globe, the fundamentals of project management remain much the same: one person is ultimately responsible for planning out how the project will work. That person plans the budget, the timeframes, builds a Gantt chart and allocates tasks and resources.

Now, while this model isn’t necessarily ‘bad’, it does raise some issues. If you work as a project manager, you’ll likely be aware of the high rate of failures for projects in the industry – research from the Project Management Institute indicates that around 38% of projects fail to meet their goals. Of course, there’s a huge variety of things that can go wrong with a project, but it’s worth asking whether the project management approach is part of the problem.

You see, when project management is highly structured and top-down, every team member simply gets on with the job they’ve been given. However, if they’re not aware of what other team members are supposed to be doing, we can only expect miscommunications, confusion and for people to work in silos. And when things start to go wrong, no one is aware until it’s already too late.

So, if this top-down approach is part of the reason projects face obstacles, what can be done about it? Well, there’s a lesson to be learned from Dutch football here. Even if sports strategy from the 1970s isn’t your thing, the concept of ‘Total Football’ can be a valuable source of inspiration for project managers.

What is ‘Total Football’ and what’s it got to do with PPM?

‘Total Football’ was a new approach to managing football teams which emerged out of the Netherlands in the 1970s. Until then, football tactics were heavily focused on giving specific players specific duties – marking a particular opponent and holding one particular position in the field. Total Football completely revolutionised this. The central concept of the philosophy was that every player should be able to play in any position on the field (except the goalkeeper). The striker could drop back into midfield if needed; the fullbacks would press higher up the pitch to play a more attacking role while the centrebacks would play horizontally across the back line. It was a new ‘fluid’ style of football that had not yet been seen in the sport.

This innovative philosophy led the Dutch national team through a highly successful period in the 1970s and meant teams like Ajax went whole seasons without losing a home game. But what’s all this got to do with project management? More than you might think.

Reversing the top-down approach

All too often, projects are managed like traditional football teams. Each colleague has a specific role which they must carry out almost as if in a silo. For instance, if you were managing the construction of a new railway line, you might have a team of engineers who knew their specific tasks but were completely unaware of whether the HR team has managed to hire the right contractors to build it. And in turn, the HR team might have little idea of what the lawyers were doing either. The point is that, in a situation where everyone knows their job but has little concept of what anyone else is doing and how their role might need to change as a response, the risks of breakdown are immense.

A Total Football approach might be better here for a more successful project management approach. Of course, we’re not suggesting your lawyers try their hand at building, or your engineers switch roles and become hiring managers. Rather, a more flexible approach, where different teams interact, collaborate and flexibly change their plans to ensure everyone knows everyone else’s role and how these are changing. Let’s see what this might look like in action:

  • Imagine your Estate Manager could log into a central platform where he could view who was on site that day – which sub-contractors, suppliers, temp staff and consultants were in which building. This would allow him to ensure security across his domain and make sure only the right people were on site at the right time.
  • Imagine your Resource Manager could view project progress as easily as the project manager. She might realise that the project was using too many resources and alert the PM of changes in funding.
  • Or, imagine your Logistics/Operations Manager has just found out that a shipment has been delayed. By setting up an alert within your project software, she’s able to tell everyone about the hold-up immediately.

PS+ and a Total Football management approach

PS+ offers a new solution for project teams to understand how the projects they’re working on are progressing. With an easy-to-use interface, it allows anyone working on a project to access project plans, collaborate and communicate in real time (accessible via mobile for field workers) and understand the wider context of the project. In this way, the silo-mentality of so many projects is broken down and replaced by a much more free-flowing, flexible and agile approach to running projects.

To explore how PS+ can help your business complete projects more flexibly, start your free trial today.

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About the Author:

Chris Aslett
PPM Consultant, CPS

Chris AslettChris Aslett has been part of the business development team at CPS since January 2013, with a focus on Microsoft Project Solutions. Chris enjoys providing clients with solutions that make significant improvements to improve business efficiency and profitability. Chris has experience working across all verticals and relishes the challenge of learning about new businesses during the initial phases of an implementation, as well as working closely with the delivery team during project implementation and go-live phase. Chris is also often seen at Microsoft, providing the Project team support using his P-SSP status