Posted by: kerrywills | July 25, 2014

Helping the team play better

I like watching sports and sometimes I get excited and yell at the players on TV. My wife always asks me if I think that they can hear me or if I am actually helping them to play better. This metaphor is similar on projects, especially in large corporations. I find that there are several ‘spectators’ yelling at the people ‘playing the game’ on the project but not many actually contribute to the teams playing better. These are all of the areas that capture status and people who attend meetings and ask questions which they won’t do anything with the information.

In fact, to keep the metaphor going, some of these organizations can be considered throwing debris on the field to block players from playing. These organizations have processes, forms and policies which add to the workload of ‘the players’ and don’t always help them to perform better.

Sports fan shaking fists yelling at TV in living room

I know a lot of these organizations have good reasons for their processes but we need to be conscious of the game. Projects are not like sports where you can have 10 people playing and 30,000 people watching and yelling. The only way to succeed is to have everyone in the game contributing to their team.


Posted by: kerrywills | July 18, 2014

Interim Review Time

Well it’s the middle of the year and that means time for mid-point reviews.  It’s always interesting to see what people write in their self assessments for accomplishments as compared to what others say when asked to provide feedback. Here are some thoughts I have on interim reviews…

  • Provide facts to substantiate impacts, size of work, and benefits
  • Align points to objectives to demonstrate how they were met
  • Be fair with your words as to not look too pretentious, but not to undersell yourself either
  • Be honest about those areas you need to develop

The gift of feedback

The importance of interim reviews is in the conversation around how you are trending for the year to allow time to remediate or change focus, if necessary.  Therefore make sure you force your manager to take the time to have the conversation and provide feedback about how you are doing, what you need to work on, and how to help you progress in your career. As a manager it is important to use this time to manage expectations of your employees by showing them areas to improve and let them know how they are trending. This avoids surprises at the end of the year.

Posted by: kerrywills | July 11, 2014

Classic Workplace Moves: Long eMails

I get between 200 and 300 e-mails each day on top of the full agenda of meetings usually running from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM most days. So I try to be as efficient as possible and multi-task during the meetings. But this is very difficult when e-mails are multiple paragraphs long with links and attachments.  I see so many problems with long e-mails….

  • They are long
  • They don’t get to the point so it is hard to tell salient points
  • It takes up the time of the sender and the reader
  • They are long
  • I cant tell what the person is trying to say
  • It seems like rambling
  • There is an assumption that we want this level of detail
  • They are long




I would strongly suggest a few things…..

  • Figure out what you are trying to say and craft the message around the key points, but keep it under a few sentences
  • I have a ‘scroll rule’ meaning if I have to scroll then the message is too long
  • If you absolutely need to have details list them as an attachment and reference it
  • Have some structure to your e-mail instead of just paragraphs of information – I like to use section headings with a different color (e.g. “Key Points” or “Action Required”)
Posted by: kerrywills | July 4, 2014

Spartan Up!

This last week I competed in my first Spartan Race which was a 4.5 mile obstacle course with 20 obstacles that included ascending walls, rope climbing, spear throwing, sandbag carries, tire flips and barbed wire. I have to say that even though I had been training for 6 months, it was the physically hardest thing that I have ever done in one day.


This race was a perfect metaphor for projects in that most projects spend a lot of time planning but when it comes to execution, there are always obstacles that get in the way which need to be overcome somehow.


The best way to overcome the obstacles is to work as a team and help each other. In the race, people were helping each other over the walls or verbally encouraging each other to keep pushing on, which really did help. This is critical on our projects as well to make sure that we realize that our mutual objective is to finish the project (race) and therefore we need to support each other to do it successfully. In the end we finished the race and earned our medals and the feeling was fantastic.



Posted by: kerrywills | June 27, 2014

Scoring Project Goals: A Soccer Metaphor

This is a re-post of an article that I did in 2009. Given the World Cup is going on, it seemed appropriate to post it again. Enjoy…..

Have you ever seen a group of children play soccer? The ball gets kicked into a corner and every child on the field runs after it. Then the ball gets kicked into another corner and they all chase it there as well. It is exhausting to watch and the game usually lasts a long time, with no/few goals being scored.

This metaphor can easily be extended to poorly run projects. All of the team members wind up ‘chasing the ball’ wherever it goes rather than spreading the field and playing as a team. Often the same result occurs as the children’s game; a long time goes by without many goals being made. This article will ponder the comparison between a well run project and a well run soccer team.


1. Watching Children Play

A lot can be learned about running projects from watching children play soccer. It seems that project teams are always ‘chasing down’ the most recent problem like chasing down a soccer ball. That is, they are always running to the next place that the ball is kicked. This problem usually involves the entire team or a large part of it to solve. This means that team members are not working on other aspects of the project, resulting in those areas having problems later. These new problems then require everyone working on them to solve. It seems to be a perpetual loop that is diagrammed below.

ProactiveFigure 1: Always Chasing The Ball

The result of this loop is that the team is always behind the ball chasing it wherever it gets kicked. This is usually accompanied by lots of yelling from the sidelines by the coach (Project Manager). The next sections will discuss approaches for scoring project goals.

2. Get In Front of the Ball

The best soccer players (and project team members) are those who have learned how to ‘run without the ball’. These players have the ability to anticipate where the ball will go and be there by the time it gets there. By not being behind the ball, they can focus on preparation for when the ball gets to them and they have a better idea of what to do with it when it gets there.

As this relates to projects, having a plan and being able to anticipate where the project will go is critical to the success of the project. If a project is always chasing down issues, then they are being controlled by the issues and wherever it takes them. Staying in front of the issues allows them to be manageable and allows for preparation as they arise.

The plan must be realistic, however. Having team members ready at a place in the field where the ball will not go makes them unproductive.  The plan must also be flexible enough to react to deviations in the track of the ball.

3. Teamwork

One of the biggest keys to getting in front of the ball is to trust in the other team members. This allows the players on the team to spread out themselves across the field and focus on their respective roles. The offensive players in the front need to trust that the players behind them will get them the ball and the goalie needs to trust that the defensive players will do their best to keep the ball away from the goal.

Productive teams also need to trust in each other’s abilities. Designers need to trust that the Requirements were captured properly. Developers need to trust that the Design was done properly. Having this trust allows the team members to focus on their aspect of the project and not have to question all of the other information.

Another key to teamwork is to know where the other team members are located across the field. This allows whoever has the ball to get it to the appropriate person when they are ready to receive it. This results in proper handoffs between team members.

4. Coaching

The coach is critical to the success of the team. Their job is to keep the team focused and motivated to make goals. They see the entire field and can provide valuable insight to the players who are focused on their part of the game. This is why the coach needs to be observant and engaged in what is going on during the game.

The coach needs to have the respect of the team members. Yelling from the sidelines is not a very effective technique for motivating team members. Eventually, they stop listening to the coach and do things however they want to do them.

Another effective technique of the coach is the half-time talk. This is when the coach motivates the team during the middle of the game. If the game is going well, they praise the team but remind them that the game is not over yet. If the game is not going well, they motivate the players and formulate a new plan. Project Managers shouldn’t wait until ‘half-time’ but should always be looking to motivate their team members.

5. Proper Training

Proper training also results in a higher probability of success. This is because the team members have practiced their skills and are not learning to pass the ball for the first time during a critical game.


Projects can be compared to soccer games in how they are run. Team members need to spread the field, run without the ball, trust in each other, practice their skills and have a good coach.

When all goes well, the team can make their goals. I will leave it up to you, the PM, to determine if they can pull their shirts over their heads and run around the field once this happens.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers