Lessons in Project Management from the 2014 FIFA World Cup

The 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil has come and gone with a strong following in the U.S., record television ratings, and the U.S. men’s national team (MNT) advancing into the elimination rounds. Being a soccer guy (“Sounders ‘til I die”) who played a little futbol ‘til the knees and hamstrings got too old, I decided to organize a World Cup bracket competition with my coworkers here at Reid Middleton. I bought an engraved World Cup replica trophy for the winner and recruited 13 participants to fill out their brackets.

As the tournament came to an exciting conclusion with the final match, a classic match-up of the effectively planned and precision team play of Germany vs. Argentina who relied on their superstar Lionel “the atomic flea” Messi. In the end, the German national team won with their organized teamwork. We also saw a similar result in the NBA finals in June with the teamwork and deep bench of the San Antonio Spurs victorious over the Miami Heat who relied heavily on their superstar LeBron “King” James.

These championships and Reid Middleton’s current project management training using the Franklin Covey program reminded me that organized team work is not only the key to success in sports but also in managing engineering projects. The German MNT and Spurs have a great reputation for advanced planning and thorough organization, which is not about individual heroics but working as a team to accomplish a common goal. This strategy for success relies on having an effective plan and recruiting a qualified team who understands their roles. Project managers, like coaches, need to organize their teams with qualified individuals who understanding their role, what is expected of them and when. Relying on your team superstars by thinking they will simply make it happen without a plan or communication is not a recipe for success in soccer or engineering.

As the World Cup final match went into extra time without any goals, the Germany coach decided a change was required and substituted the reliable goal-scoring veteran Miroslav Klose for the 22-year-old Mario Gotze, who went on to score the winning goal. When that big deadline approaches, project managers also need to monitor project progress and be ready to makes changes as needed to management plans. This can be accomplished by checking in with team members to verify that they know what is expected and when, and not solely relying on that email you sent out weeks ago. In addition, when problems arise, solve them quickly by revising plans, getting others involved or rolling up your sleeves and completing tasks yourself.

Now the World Cup is over and with luck, my prediction that Germany would beat Argentina made me the winner of the first annual Reid Middleton World Cup Bracket competition. Being the organizer made me a bit sheepish about winning a trophy I bought myself, but in four years the trophy can move on to the 2nd annual champion and the U.S. MNT will hopefully go deeper into the elimination rounds.