The Importance of the Right Game Plan

Thomas EIDE

September 19, 2017

Great projects need a great game plan. One of the keys to a successful project is that the entire project team works from the same playbook. Too often, project managers assume that everyone associated with the project understands exactly what is going on, but this is a dangerous assumption. Although everyone on the project team may have a good idea of what was literally said, contextual misinterpretations can occur. Even the best game plan can fail if the players aren’t in sync with each other and playing from the same playbook.

Seem obvious?

Picture this: You’re watching a football game between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys, and the Bears run (yet another) play that results in an incomplete pass. John Madden, a famed sports commentator, provided a great example for viewers of the importance of a good breakdown structure with his commentary of this play and the Dallas plays that followed.

In this play, the Bears had successfully driven into the red zone (within the Cowboys 20-yard line). Rick Mirer, Chicago’s quarterback, yelled out an audible at the line of scrimmage (an audible is when the quarterback changes the play). Rickey Proehl, the wide receiver, drifted toward the sideline. John Madden announced that the Bears were going to pass. When the ball was snapped, Rick Mirer threw a perfect pass into the middle of the end zone for Rickey Proehl.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Rickey Proehl was waiting for the ball on the left sideline at the two-yard line, so the pass went incomplete. Madden then said, “Both these players are new to the Bears, and they are not in the same playbook. Even though Rick Mirer said ‘pass’, it did not mean the same thing to Rickey Proehl.” Although both players were experienced veterans, they didn’t have the same definition of the word “pass.”

game plan

On the ensuing series, the Cowboys scored a touchdown. This was greatly aided by a 58-yard pass play that the Cowboys’ quarterback, Troy Aikman, had successfully audibled to his receiver. After the play, John Madden commented, “Those two guys are in the same playbook. When Aikman said ‘pass’, Irvin knew exactly what he meant.”

This concept applies to all projects, project plans, and project teams. The success of the Cowboys (and the lack thereof for the Bears) demonstrates the importance of making sure that everyone plays from the same playbook.

Structure your project “plays.”

Although a good breakdown structure ensures that everyone is in the same playbook, it requires more allocated time in your project schedule. It also means you should touch base with everyone connected to the project about how they view the project, and how they plan to coordinate with each other to execute its activities. This allows the project manager to reflect on the various mindsets, and incorporate any differing perspectives regarding the project into the breakdown.

If this reflection doesn’t occur in the beginning stages of a project, the project manager is doomed to try and do the breakdown in the middle of the project. This spells disaster, because it inevitably requires a restructure of the project schedule. It is impossible to find a project manager that has the time to do this, let alone think about it when in the trenches of executing and managing the project.

How do you make sure your project team plays from the same playbook?