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Project Manager Insight – Implementing an NBA Coach Model

There are many commonalities between project management and sports, and some lessons learned about project management can be derived from how sports teams are built, coached and managed.

Specifically, in the NBA, you see coaches giving their team guidance and strategy leading up to each game and making adjustments during timeouts. Then, the team members deliver their autonomous and specialized expertise, as they work together to ensure the win – all against a ticking clock.

NBA teams demand teamwork from a group of people, there are clear leaders on and off the court, the games require strategies and tactics, and there are clear obstacles to overcome. More to the point, the NBA requires attention to what you are doing, what your opponents are doing and sometimes help from specialists.

Whether you’re prepping your team for a game or prepping your team for a project, as a leader you are responsible for instilling empowerment within your team. Although each individual may have focused tasks, as a team you are working towards a specific goal. And as a team, you’re helping each other accomplish that goal.

As a project manager, what can you do to make sure your team is preparing sufficiently to attack each challenge to ensure success? While this isn’t an all-inclusive list of tips for team project success, here are three things you can do to emulate the role of an NBA coach.

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Shared Tools and Trackers

This takes some preparation on your end as the project manager, but the time spent is well worth the effort. Use tools to track all future milestones so everyone knows what the team’s goals are and deadlines to reach them. Make these tracking tools available to everyone so they can feel empowered to update their own information. Send reminders about the team’s goals and to update completed milestones prior to the next key meeting. In status meetings, focus on those areas where the tracker has not been updated or where your team members may need additional help.

Reward the Good

Give credit where credit is due. Ask for feedback and input. Encourage communication. Create trust. Include team members in important discussions. Hold each other accountable. Be transparent. These are all actions to take in order to create empowerment within your team. The goal is to guide your team to be self-sufficient, successful and manage expectations.

Change Up the Routine

A prepared team can handle impromptu product demos, surprise client visits and unplanned requests for information from leadership. You should set the expectation that things can change at any moment and team members should be ready to effectively handle various situations. For instance, surprise your team by running the meeting a different way; try giving everyone the opportunity to deliver status reports. You get the idea – agility. Changing the routine will encourage and challenge your team to be ready for any situation.

As a project manager, emulate the NBA coach model methodology and tap into the knowledge-rich resource of your team: a team of equals. Seek input from your team members when planning. Before executing, allow team members to articulate and define what needs to be done, and how long they think task components will take to complete. Lastly, empower them to take accountability; they will be more vested in project success. By valuing their input, team members feel more involved and respected, which invests them in winning the game or successfully delivering a project on time.

Remember, as a project manager, you are a guide or coach, not a dictator. Have fun and leverage the knowledge and skills your team brings to the table, and you’ll be set up for success in whatever project you take on together.

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