Some would say, myself included - that the game of football has become America's favorite pastime sport. I say sport, as political bickering appears to be a year-round activity for many these days! But enough about that.
Football like most sports has one objective, to ultimately score more points than the opposing team by the time the clock runs out. It is a complex game with sophisticated strategies and complex plays. The stakes are high and teams employ a formidable array of talent on the field as well as off in order to gain any advantage. Football is also a simple game as the only goal is to move a ball forward while the opposing team tries to thwart that effort. Both teams take turns doing this.
The Wall Street Journal featured an article by David Biderman 2010. He noted that even though a typical NFL game lasted over three hours, only about eleven minutes was actually spent playing and actively trying to move the ball. The remaining time was spent jogging back to position, in a huddle, or waiting to get into the huddle!
In many ways the Architect's goal, like football, is also both simple and complex. A firm has one essential purpose, to find work and then move it forward. Like football, that goal has remained unchanged. Progressing work is the only way architects actually earn money. And while many of us pay close attention to monitor if we are making money, few of us systematically make efforts or strategize on how to get better at doing it. That is, devising new strategies and creating new plays to move the ball forward. By contrast, serious effort is expended just to prepare to play a game.
Sometimes we make our job more difficult than it needs to be by introducing other goals that get in the way of moving the ball and scoring points. Industry initiatives, unrealistic promises by sales, keeping up with continually changing technologies and many others can create distraction and become a hindrance. Some aspects of these are integral to the practice and cannot be ignored. A fine line exists however, between distilling what positions us for the future and wasting time and effort on varying objectives for their own sake.
We would find it humorous if the focus of football were to shift to the players uniforms. Much comparison and commentary could be made with fans casting votes on which teams uniforms are the more innovative and fashionable. Players could add individual embellishments reflecting their personal interests, aesthetic tastes or even reflecting current or past events. It might become important whether they were locally tailored vs. made in another country. They could also be evaluated on the technologies incorporated within the uniforms along with the fabric's intrinsic properties and performance data. We might even establish a formalized process and create requirements to certify uniforms for use by players. Imagine the controversy if a jersey were found to have missed a step in the certification process and one of the colors was a shade off - cancel the game!
I'm all for well-designed regalia - who hasn't enjoyed watching the Oregon Ducks attire change from game-to-game! Ultimately though, teams are still judged on whether they bring home victories.
I might be oversimplifying and overstating some aspects to make a point that the fundamental goal of our effort remains - to obtain work and move it forward
Getting back at the game, there are a few other things we can notice -
WHERE'S THE BALL
If we were to ask the receiving team where they would like the ball after kickoff, the answer would be - "as far up the field toward the goal as possible". Football aficionados understand well that field position, and the control of it, are essential to victory in the game. Likewise, success in project delivery is greatly affected by how we position the project. It is not uncommon to agree to contracts or schedules that place the project and firm at an immediate disadvantage, well before a single line is drawn. Firms will under staff at critical junctures or move work forward without solving essential issues.
It is always advantageous, before agreeing to a detailed timetable, to first understand the inter-dependencies between tasks to determine if it is both realistic and achievable. Pull Planning is increasingly being used by design firms to both validate the milestone schedule and to figure out how to work together more effectively along the way. It is also important to look at the whole of project delivery and not see it simply as a series of phases – the goal being to ensure that we don’t allow problems to accumulate along the way.
Actively manage the client’s expectations and keep them informed of project progress and potential problems. Let them know that you are not perfect and there will be issues, but that you will work together to solve them.
The football team has an idea but does not know exactly where the kickoff will land; regardless, they will start from where they catch the ball. The point is to begin there and do yourself no harm.
THE STRATEGIC PAUSE
Being from Dallas and a fair weather football fan, last year was exciting as the Cowboys advanced to the playoffs (gasp!) with a talented young team. Observing their rookie running back, the announcers dissected his every movement but one thing they kept coming back to was his ability to momentarily pause to let the blockers ahead of him open up a lane to sprint through. Apparently this is the mark of a more seasoned player, a sign of maturity.
The same trait has broad applicability for design teams that can observe and then pause, dodge, or move sideways when decisions and schedules slosh around. Every project I've been involved with has experienced what is called - "2 steps forward, 1 step back" at times. It is inevitable that we’ll encounter obstacles and issues along the way. Experienced teams that can pivot (or hesitate slightly) can better weather the back and forth.
How do you do this? Having similar work processes across a firm allows team members to more easily shift and temporarily plug in to other work. Strategizing to find those aspects of a project that are unaffected (or minimally so) by a pause can allow us to still push them ahead.
Next time we'll talk game strategy, teamwork, & the proper execution of plays.