Management Lessons from Vince Lombardi

I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, but if you’re from Wisconsin, you idolize Vince Lombardi, or you’re a heretic. He coached the Green Bay Packers, the small-market blue collar National Football League (fĂștbol norteamericano, not soccer, you international readers) and led them to something like 14 annual championships in 8 years. He was that good.

Now, you might ask yourself what a football coach from fifty years ago can teach you about quality assurance management. If you don’t read anything but quality assurance books, you’re only going to read what other people think. Crikey, you do understand you have to get outside those narrow channels of thought designed by someone else to synthesize your own knowledge, and reading outside the industry can do that. What are you, a Bears fan? (Patriots fan: If you weren’t in that lesser American conference, you wouldn’t be much better.)

At any rate, a couple lessons distilled from The Coach:

  • The game is more complicated than it looks. You might think football is a couple seconds between whistles where big men hit each other. Below that tip lies an iceberg of individual team assignments working together in harmony and a whole glacier’s worth of individual and team preparation to handle any one game at a time. Like any software project or iteration, you need to remember the complexities and to account for them. A client wants a feature or a Web site? Sure, it sounds simple, and to the people who watch–that is, the clients or stakeholders–it is going to look short and easy. But if you’re managing it, you must not see it that way.
  • Your team has different positions made of different individuals who are motivated differently. Sure, you’ve got a project manager/scrum master, and he knows his role and what he’s supposed to do. The team’s success and performing as well as possible so not to get cut are definite motivators. Be that as it may, you’ll get the best performance out of that player if you know the player as well as the role and know how much to micromanage, how much to lay off, and whether to shout or to whisper. To be a leader, you not only need to lead, but you need to follow the player–to learn each his needs and personalities.
  • You have a chance to plan for each game. All projects are similar, following a set of constraints, but they all differ in the challenges faced within each one. Sometimes, the linebackers are fast. Sometimes the inside rushers can run right over your center. But the more you know about each game and each team, the better you can tailor your approach to the game or project. In college dorms, your developers could pick teams and start a pick-up game, but in the big leagues, it takes more than that.
  • You can plan, but you must adapt to the game at hand. Your planning will have gaps. You planned all week to contain that #56, but he goes down with injury, and instead of a speedy safety, you’ve got a mountain of a man who knows his zones. The rain on gameday makes for a slippery ball. Circumstances arise that you might not have planned for, or maybe it’s just that you have to use a backup plan instead of the first plan. Requirements, timelines, personalities, and every element within your project are variables, not constants. They will change in the middle, and you have to adapt. Hopefully, your understanding of your team and the project at hand will give you a good head start on changing appropriately.
  • You can adapt, but your success will come down to individual performance. You’ve got a plan, you can adapt, but if your developers turn in buggy code, you’re still sunk. You need to motivate the individual performers (see above) to get the best from them, and if they’re not working with the team, you still need to take action with that mouthy wide receiver.
  • At the end of every project, you can find something to improve with the team. You beat the Bears 49-0? Great! But look how the left tackle missed a block on the sweep. You got the development in under budget and passed the application off to the testers only three days late? You can do better. Even when everything goes right, it could be made to go righter. In the next game or project, the improvement you put in place can be the margin of success if something else goes wrong.
  • A hamburger and coffee is what a successful leader eats for lunch. Not sushi. That’s just pretentious.

That’s some of the reminders I got from this book, wrapped in a different metaphor (football) that makes it fresh. Your insights might vary. But, jeez, read something besides the industry standard material to make sure you think differently from the industry standard.

One Response to “Management Lessons from Vince Lombardi”

  1. Musings from Brian J. Noggle » Blog Archive » The Funniest Sentence I’ve Written All Day Says:

    […] Both from my other review of Run To Daylight, entitled "Management Lessons from Vince Lombardi". […]

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