Friday, May 10, 2013

Project Managers act like a coach in 6 ways

José Mourinho

"What does a Project Manager do?" is a tough question to answer anyway you take it. But when you compare a Project Manager to a coach you find there are more similarities than differences. Plus most people understand what a coach does. So next time someone asks you what is it that you do, why not compare yourself to a coach?

I usually start the writing process with googling for the keywords of what I'm writing about. Curious enough, if you google for "coach project manager" every single link that shows in the first few pages is about coaching (the human development one). Nothing about coaches (or trainers or managers according to the sport and location where you're from). But the funny thing is: if you go to the Wikipedia, the definition for coaching they offer there is:
Coaching (...) is a teaching, training or development process in which an individual gets support while learning to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal.
Not all that different from the definition of a coach:
a coach is a person involved in the direction, instruction and training of the operations of a sports team or of individual sportspeople.
Funny things apart, this is a dear topic to me, and if you have kids you understand why! Just try to explain to a kid what a Project Manager does, if it's tough explaining it to adults... And that's because this is actually the second time I tackle this topic here, I've written before about it on "Project Management? Yeah, I do that too". But this time I'm giving it a twist and compare Project Managers to coaches.

1. Make the sponsor happy

This is always a top priority for any Project Manager. And also for any coach. If the sponsor (club owner or whatever title you want to give them) isn't happy, the Project Manager will suffer: Ranging from being fired to have an absent sponsor, you pick your option - they will all hurt.

2. Persuit the season objectives

Or the triple constraint, in the case of the Project Manager. If you don't you're not competent and so you're on your way to have no more projects to manage. This pretty says everything, but it's really easy to get lost in the constant little problems that pop up everyday demanding your attention and miss the big picture.
This always reminds me Paul Auster's "The New York Trilogy" where in one of the stories a detective loses contact with reallity when on a stakeout...

3. Roadblock remover

You have to foresee obstacles and ways to remove them so the team can always work at their best performance. Both the coach and the Project Manager want this badly. Many in Project Management have incorporated this one already. In Scrum, this actually is one of the roles of the Scrum Master, but it's valid for any project management "filosophy".
And it's also valid for coaches, right? In fact, much of José Mourinho (a Portuguese football/soccer coach in the picture above, considered one of the top in the world) arrogance is just intended to protect his players: if the heat is on him it won't be on the players. Easy, isn't it? I guess not just for him.

4. Make the team grow

Not so much a top priority in Project Management, but it should. Even if you won't have the same team on your next project. It's an extra work on your side that can pay you back in a few different ways:

  • growing is obviously good for the team members, and
  • word gets around, right?
  • but better yet, they get better and more performant as they grow and
  • other project managers will value it
Now in sports, making the team grow is the name of the game. But both coaches and Project Managers should play close attention at this. After all, if you have no team odds are you have no project.

5. Back the team every single occasion

Even when people in your team fail or somehow misbehave, you have to protect them from the outside. Of course you have to make them see they went wrong and maybe punish them if required (maybe even get the guy sacked), but that's just between you two. At most, between the project team. If someone has to take the heat... well, the project is your responsibility, you take the heat! That is part of the Project Management role.
If you do that you gain in every single front: from the team being able to focus on the work to gaining the respect of everyone, starting from the team... you name it.
Not easy to do though. Backing the team is easy. But on every single occasion? Best case scenario, that's tough!

6. Don't play the game

Now and then it happens for a sports player to also manage the team. But this is rare. And why? 2 main reasons:
  1. If you play the game you have to do it wholehearted, can you also coach?
  2. If need some distance to gain objectiveness. Could you do it while playing the game?
The same goes from Project Managers. But it frequently happens (at least to me) to play a part in the team as in building the deliverables. And it shouldn't. Once you get into the nuts and bolts you're on your way to loose the necessary control and objectiveness that the management part demands.


Well, there's one big difference: sports aren't businesses. In sports you have an audience and fans that do make a difference. The entire context is different. Just picture this: suppose you're on the brick of breaking a world record or becoming a world champion or something really big like this. Wouldn't you demand that your coach showed you precisely where to get better? What you did wrong the last time? Somehow this feels different in a business context, doesn't it? If you're particularly good at work, the least you expect is for your boss to show you where you went wrong and what you could do better the next time...
I did try to find more differences between coaches and Project Managers, but it all leads to this difference in context. And I was really surprised at this, I was expecting more. Could you point out other differences that I missed?


There are many similarities between coaches and Project Managers. However, the perception in general in very different: somehow both professions "feel" different. Even so, you can make good use of the similarities to make people understand the profession and hopefully take the best decisions possible. Maybe you haven't noticed, but there are loads of people making decisions about projects that just don't know the first think about it... maybe you can try this approach (comparing the Project Manager to a coach) and hopefully educate them...

Image from

Posted by

No comments: