Why Construction Project Managers Should Act More Like Football Coaches


By Michael Pink – CEO of Construx Solutions, LLC

I have spent many years supporting construction companies on the best practices in construction and the most common thread that I see in successful construction company might surprise you – contractors and construction managers thrive when the project managers act like football coaches.

Of course, the two professions have their differences – construction teams do not have a slated opponent and Vegas isn’t setting odds on the on-time completion of a highway contract in Texas (although now that I think of it, that would be pretty cool!). But construction and football are way more alike than they are different.

  • Tradesmen are the players.  Generally tough blue collar guys risking injury each day to pursue the craft that they enjoy and/or the job that puts food on the table;
  • Project managers are the coaches. Generally more white collar who may have come up as a player or tradesman, and (good or bad) it is a rapidly decreasing requirement in both professions;
  • The construction site is the stadium where the game plan is executed with varying results;
  • Bad weather doesn’t generally stop either activity, but it sure makes both slow down considerably;
  • Both professions can be cruel, cutting a player on a Monday or a tradesmen on a Friday due to a bad performance or other factors beyond their control;
  • In both arenas, each are a group of interrelated parts and individuals that come together and work towards building something collectively, as a team;
  • In both arenas, each team member needs know who is working around them and what each teammate’s responsibilities are;
  • In both cases, if one part of the system fails to perform its duty in accordance with the game plan, then all other parts will be adversely affected and the odds of success decrease for all team members.

Now that I have established how these systems are similar to one another, I would like to discuss how the approach towards achieving success should be consistent amongst the two as well.

Anyone who understands football knows that success starts with drafting and signing the best players possible, within the NFL’s salary cap, to form a team. In construction, we call this the bidding process.   In the NFL, it is imperative that you seek out talent, ability, and potential and rarely do NFL teams just try to seek out the lowest priced players to save a buck, rather, they max out the salary cap.  From there, the players need to be molded into a cohesive team through training camp. In construction, this is the partnering and pre-construction process.  With the season right around the corner, coaches must make their final cuts and finalize their roster. For general contractors and construction managers, this is subcontractor buyout, as well as the selection of the appropriate foremen and crews for the project.

Finally, the season (or project) kicks off and the teams must be prepared to execute successfully. And the key to success on the gridiron and the jobsite is relentless preparation.

All football coaches in the NFL today are continuously studying their opponents and constantly analyzing the performance of their personnel –  and the better the coaches and coaching staff are at this very important process, the more successful they are as coaches. This is a very simple and straightforward concept – watch how the team performs, understand the strengths and weaknesses and correct the problems.  Coaches are also generally known for masterfully instituting mid-game adjustments in response to the situation on the ground. By studying where they performed well and where they did not, they are able to make adjustments from minute to minute, quarter to quarter, game to game, and season to season.

So how do these great coaches prepare, study, analyze, and adjust? Largely through embracing technology – through game film, practice film, and data analytics (ever heard of sabermetrics??).

This is where I see project management teams falling short in construction, and dropping the ball – resisting technology and failing to study the “game tape.” No, I am not talking about videotaping all facets of a construction site – that would be costly and inefficient.  The “game tape” in construction is the project-level and company-wide data. Collecting, organizing, aggregating and analyzing this data allows project managers to prepare their teams for the upcoming day, week, month or project and put them in position to be successful. It has been proven repeatedly that when project managers take the time to study project data, they are more successful and manage their teams better; yet rarely do I see construction companies make efficient and effective performance management a high priority – like football coaches do.

Could you imagine a football coaching staff electing to ignore film and statistics on the upcoming week’s opponent, even though it is readily available? How would they even begin to prepare their team? With all that in mind, the burning question is why do construction teams often fail to embrace the importance of technology, data, and performance management at the highest level? Construction is one of the most inefficient, high-risk and litigious industries on the planet. Billions upon billions of dollars are lost every year in this industry on poor estimates, schedule delays, lost productivity and budget overruns, eating at the profit margins of every construction company. Yet contractors and construction managers are generally reluctant to “watch the game tape” which would change it all!

Successful coaches embrace technology and rely on it daily to prepare their teams and maximize performance. Leaders in the construction industry – at both the project and executive levels – would do well to follow the example of their coaching counterparts. Leaders do things differently and prepare their teams – lead! With the amount of mobile devices out there, plenty of data should be coming from the field and should be studied.  And the age old excuse that the “field guys won’t do it” is mid boggling – after all, plenty of them text, email, look up scores, read articles and even coach their own fantasy teams from the field (so they should completely understand the concept of analyzing statistics!).

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to take the time to check out SmartPM™. We have developed this revolutionary data collection and analysis software solution designed to collect information from the field (simplistically) and automatically convert that data to performance metrics to help construction leaders intelligently set and adjust their game plans. This is your game tape.  Check it out today at www.construxsolutions.com/smartpm.

Author: SmartPMTech

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