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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest Post: What the World Cup Teaches Us About Project Management

By Nick Sharpe (P3M)

Whether you like it or not, there has been no escaping this year's World Cup. Despite the disappointment of England's untimely departure, the competition continues to dominate the front and back pages. Whilst he is nursing the pain of the USA's recent exit, P3M's resident Yank and marketing expert Dan ("Editor") has asked me to reflect upon the “lessons learned” from Brazil 2014.

Here's a list of 10 shameless analogies to project management from this year's tournament:

The ticket to understanding elements of your project management
potential may lie in this year's World Cup (image courtesy Jorge in Brazil
via @Flickr, re-used with permission. Changes were not made to the image.)

  1. The twelfth man - Whether it's been the sun, the samba or the Selecao, there's no denying that the support for this year's cup has been fantastic. Amid the hype, the USA's coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave a master-class in stakeholder engagement with his letter to America's bosses ahead of their game against Germany.
  2. The death of tiki-taka - Methodologies come and go. As Spain's exit shows us, the trick is to have the flexibility to choose an approach that fits the game and gets a result. This serves as a word of warning to those always following the flavour of the month.
  3. "No tactics without technique" - The English national team have once again failed to make it far on the biggest stage. Over-drilled and under-skilled, Hodgson's men proved that no matter how good the tactics, a team needs a fundamental level of competency before it has the capability to achieve its goals.
  4. Beware! Underdog bites! - In a group of three former world champions, Costa Rica were the lowest risk on the register at the start of the tournament. That hasn't stopped them becoming an issue.
  5. Beware! Striker bites! - What struck me about Suarez' misdemeanour was the public outrage incurred: not by the monster munch itself, but by his silence on the subject, before making an apology. Whether there's an appeal process or not on your project's evaluation, no communication is bad communication in times of crisis.
  6. Home advantage - Brazil may not have been at their scintillating best so far in the tournament, but it comes as no surprise that half of the teams to reach the quarter finals are South American. Familiar working conditions, lofty aims and high expectations have undoubtedly spurred the hosts - and their neighbours - to outperform the rest of the world.
  7. A game of two halves…and extra time and penalties - The number of games that have gone into extra time this year has probably been more popular with the fans than with the players due to the heat. Overtime has seen the levels of performance drop and the number of mistakes increase as legs tire and concentration is lost.
  8. "Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job…" - What do 'Big Phil' Scolari, Didier Deschamps and van Gaal have in common apart from a team in the quarters? Charisma. The value of strong leadership for team work, conflict resolution, communication and - ultimately - project success, is undoubted and immeasurable in value.
  9. Calamity in Qatar - Whilst Brazil seems to be getting over its teething problems, Sepp and his cronies continue to baffle with their handling of plans for the World Cup in Qatar. If you want an example of how not to do a risk assessment, how not to engage stakeholders, how not to monitor compliance, or how not to run a project: look no further!
  10. On scope, on time and on budget? - Despite its successes, criticisms that will mar the legacy of the Brazilian World Cup have all come from three classic project management perspectives. First, delivering all that entails an international tournament in a country with more pressing socio-economic and political issues was the cause of the widespread riots that threatened to kill the fever of the cup. Second, spray painted turf at Fortaleza (Editor's Note: not to mention rickety structures) was a symptom of widespread under delivery. From the pitches, to the stadiums, to the transport infrastructure, Brazil did not come close to meeting requirements on schedule. Finally, the cost of the World Cup will ultimately be judged against the benefits that the tournament brings to the nation over the next few years. (Editor’s note: Against the backdrop of Rio de Janiero playing host to the next edition of the Summer Olympics, the impact could face even more scrutiny. Given what has transpired in Greece in recent years, the legacy of hosting the 2004 Summer Olympics is negligible and forgotten, especially in light of losing out on so much economically without the burden of the World Cup hosting gig to boot.) Whether the impact of this World Cup demonstrated value for money in Brazil will be a question that overshadows the tournament's place in history.

Nick Sharpe joined p3m global as a University of Exeter graduate in 2013, working in a consulting capacity to drive improvements in the Project Management methodologies of their clients. Nick has worked with clients in the recruitment, telecoms and energy sectors, and with HR, Business Services and IT departments.


  1. Many thanks for this post, and a ten-fold in Thank Yous to Gary for posting. It's much appreciated.

  2. Nick - well done in extracting lessons from the World Cup. Your point about stakeholder engagement struck me in particular (I've never heard of other coaches writing such letters before.

    Speaking of the World Cup, I recently saw a World Cup cookie at Starbucks that inspired me to write an article about improving business relationships.