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Project Communication 101: Catch the Ball – Move the Chains

Project Communication 101: Catch the Ball – Move the Chains

This has been one of those edge-of-your-seat seasons for the Denver Broncos. 10 out of 12 of their wins (including 3 overtimes) were by 7 points or less – meaning every fan was furiously biting nails on the opponents’ last drives! To compound the anxiety, Peyton Manning led the league with 17 interceptions, and Demaryius Thomas was 5th in the league in dropped passes. Dropped passes directly contributed to two of the losses, and 7 dropped passes in the Divisional Playoff round almost cost the Broncos a playoff game against the Steelers.

So let’s get to the basics: Catch the Ball – Move the Chains (and very likely, win the game)!!

This adage applies to both the NFL and IT Project Management - you’ve heard the expression “don’t drop the ball” in business, right? Here are three similarities where catching – or dropping – the ball can be the difference maker in winning or losing the game.

1. Impacts individual and team performance

I already mentioned how dropped passes directly led to two Broncos losses. And 7 dropped passes in the Divisional round did NOT move the chains for the Broncos - forcing them to come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Steelers. It also made Peyton Manning’s stat line look pretty pedestrian (21-37 rather than 28-37).

Project Communication 101: Today’s IT projects frequently follow an agile process with daily standup meetings. That means each team member is granted the opportunity to answer three questions: (1) What did you do yesterday, (2) what will you do today, and (3) what are your barriers to success? This type of daily, transparent communication is crucial; however, the communication cannot be limited to just 20 minutes per day! I once had a personal retrospective with an employee, where he assured me he brought up his “barriers to success” in every standup meeting. His communication failure was the lack of follow-up. It is easy to assume that the “ball is in their court” when you report barriers to success, but those barriers are not going to knock themselves down…or necessarily have as high a priority on someone else’s To-Do List.

Do NOT drop the ball. Keep bringing up barriers to success each day, record them in the team’s collaboration sites (could be something like Sharepoint, Confluence, or even Excel), and then pick up the phone (or camp out in the right office cube) to initiate further dialogue to eliminate those barriers. If other parties are not responding in a reasonable timeframe, escalate the issue with the ScrumMaster.

2. Keeps you out of the coach’s doghouse

The Broncos thought aggressively by trading for Vernon Davis as a pass-catching tight end. However, after drive-killing, loss-inducing drops in consecutive games against Oakland and Pittsburgh, he has barely seen the field. The Broncos quarterbacks have not targeted Davis in three consecutive games because he drops the ball and does NOT move the chains. In fact, you could say he is in the “coach’s doghouse” – he has only been in for 13 plays in those three games.

Project Communication 101: In this case, the coach could be the project manager – or the client. One project team member dropping the ball can cause the whole team to fail, and that team member will be LUCKY to get a doghouse (more on that in the next section). Imagine a business analyst not taking the time to get ALL questions answered before completing a user story for product development. Imagine a quality assurance (QA) person not doing the due diligence to define ALL permutations of test data to anticipate user data scenarios and behavior? The end results could be introducing defects into production systems, or realizing the defects during deployment…and having to rollback all of that hard work to wait for the next release cycle!

The team is counting on team members to do their job…and not drop the ball! Take the time to be individually thorough, frequently collaborate with team members and subject matter experts at all times – especially if there are any doubts about requirements, and recognize that quality is the responsibility of EVERYONE. Anything less can put you and the team into the doghouse. And that brings us to our last point…

3. Avoids getting cut in the offseason

NFL receivers who let their teams down, by dropping passes, will find themselves in the coach’s doghouse and “riding the pine” when they get benched. If that behavior isn’t corrected during the season, then the NFL teams may cut those receivers in the offseason – so the teams can find more reliable team members.

Project Communication 101: In one of my recent blog posts, Consulting 101: Unprofessionalism like Sharp Poke to the Eye, I discussed how unprofessionalism can cost you (no workee…no money). Catching passes is a fundamental requirement for NFL receivers. Unless you are an author writing unsubstantiated fiction in a cave somewhere, communication and collaboration are fundamental requirements for most professionals to succeed. Observe the communication styles of your teammates, acknowledge the collaboration tools available to your team, and then tailor your communications to that environment. A good rule of thumb is communicate early and often – and yes, that is coming from an introvert! It is still a critical part of the job.

If you are interested in an agile transformation for your organization, with a focus on effective communication and collaboration, drop me an email. We can also talk about some of the other “drop the ball” scenarios mentioned in this post, and evaluate how a DevOps strategy may lead your team to more “moving the chains” first downs and scores in regards to successful software deployments.

Photo by Liam Richards on Flickr.

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and now grandsons! I am blessed in that I also love my job as a VP of Enterprise Solutions for ProKarma. I appreciate the convergence of big data and data visualization in our Pulse Analytics social listening and analytics platform as well as our core software / mobile app development, business intelligence, and test automation services. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin. You can find Brian on .

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