Here are some of the key lessons hockey has taught me about project management:
1. Hire Flexible Players
In hockey you have six players on the ice and three main positions: Forward, Defense, and Goalie. The goalie is the only one that should truly be a “specialist,” which means the other five players need to have some flexibility. If roles are too defined, teammates won't be as prepared to help out in a pinch. Even defense should be able to shoot the puck!
In the same way, I'm not going to wait for someone in QA to test a feature when I can do it myself. The aim for everyone on the project team is to be flexible enough to assist in scoring goals. If someone's background is in business project management, but they can also turn their hand to IT or creative project management, it will serve your organization amazingly in the long run. It's all for the team.
Also, keep an eye on recruiting. Trading players in hockey translates to talent acquisition in business. Veterans are vital for providing project stability, but as the game speeds up and new skills are needed, it’s important to make sure you have the right mix of players. (And this has nothing to do with age!)
2. Seek Guidance from Coaches
The bench holds your most important assets: coaches and assistants. No single person is the keeper of all playbook knowledge. In project management, you need to seek the wisdom of mentors, supervisors, other PMs, or even the library of resources you keep on your hard drive or behind your desk. Situational guidance is a wonderful tool and keeps your team on the winning side.
Above the bench, often peering from a skybox in the arena, are the stakeholders. Their roles and responsibilities can vary greatly from team to team, but they are always present and their input guides the team. Successfully hitting your milestones will feed their appetite for updates and also provides them with visible progress. Accountability is the name of the game!
3. Take 82 Steps to Victory
When a team finally makes it through the 82-game season schedule, it's a cause for celebration. Each of those games brought the team closer to the championship trophy. In project management, those victorious games translate to accomplished tasks -- each one leading to a completed project. And success!
With so many games, ideally all of your players have had a chance to shine. If you use the Agile methodology, your daily stand-up meetings come to mind. If you don't use Agile, think of the team meetings you (hopefully) already have scheduled. This is a chance for all players to show off their contribution to the overall project. And individual recognition is key, as it keeps things personal and makes sure you acknowledge your MVP.
4. Plan for the Finals in Stages
The road to the Stanley Cup is broken into three stages: the regular season, the playoffs, and the finals. Like any complete hockey season, your project has a beginning, middle, and end. A three-stage approach makes progress observable, with no extra work needed to understand where you stand as you advance to the championship.
Hockey coaches strategize for the games by reviewing past experiences. Project teams plan for each stage by breaking down the project into those 82 smaller tasks and distributing the load to all team members.
I personally like to give my projects three milestones, with the third being the big game, the final deadline. All tasks are then built out and linked to these milestones appropriately, via dependencies. Executives can view a report in terms of completed, active, and overdue milestones (which hopefully never happen).
So here's hoping I inspired you to watch some hockey today. Meanwhile, go crush all your tasks on the road to victory!