Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behind in the 4th Quarter

College football season! My favorite time of the year. I love the excitement and the passion of college football. Labor Day weekend marked the opening of the 2013 college football season. At the season start, everyone's record is the same and some have dreams of the perfect season. However, by the end of the weekend, half the teams lost that dream. And so begins the battle for dominance.

I usually follow two college teams. Louisiana Tech (my alma mater) and the University of Alabama (my son's school). This weekend, I traveled to Raleigh, NC to watch my Bulldogs get spanked by the NC State Wolf Pack. The Dawgs suffered a miserable loss by falling behind 14 -0 on NC State's first two drives. On the drive home, I listened to the Bama game on the radio. The Crimson Tide routed Virginia Tech. It all started when Bama returned the Hokies first punt for a touchdown. Both La Tech and Virginia Tech fell quickly behind and never recovered.

Our professional life is a lot like college football. We usually start our careers or a new job with a clean slate. Before the first "game", most professionals receive a lot of coaching and are well practiced. Some careers generate immediate success and participants stay ahead of the curve. Others immediately fall behind and have to fight and scrap to catch up. It's a lot more fun to be out in front. Like the game Labor Day weekend, NC State and Bama both made mistakes, but by being ahead they didn't fall.

Let's apply these lessons to engineering and project management:

  1. Projects all start out in the same place, with a clean slate.
  2. Cohesive well trained engineering teams will usually perform better that a group of stars that haven't worked together.
  3. When a team plays well together, stays focused on the goal, plays by the rules (no penalty), and executes the game plan; they will stay ahead.
  4. Projects that require catch up and go into overtime wear out the team and lead to mistakes.
  5. Projects that are behind require a strong bench to carry the load when the first string is tired or injured for the long game.
  6. When teams are behind in the 4th quarter, and the have struggled through the whole game, they usually don't have the bench strength to prevail. 
Don't find yourself behind in the fourth quarter. Get ahead early, stay ahead, and execute the game plan.  Reach to the bench when you need help.

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