What Jordan Henderson Can Teach us About the Art of Project Management
This year something unusual happened. The Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Award didn’t go to the top scorer or the name most sought after on the back of shirts.
It went to the captain of the title winners, Jordan Henderson.
He wasn’t the most popular pick for fantasy teams and didn’t top any statistical chart. But he represented the heart of what Liverpool FC is about and set the standard for the whole squad to follow.
Jordan Henderson is the sort of player who does whatever it takes.
He gets hold of the ball and turns the play around. He pops up when you need him most. He protects the defenders, galvanises the midfield and releases the strikers.
In Tech we also have strikers and wingers and rock-solid defenders except we call them ninjas, wizards and quality assurance analysts (someone really needs to work on QA PR).
Often the role and value of the project leader, or Project Manager as we call them, can be overlooked.
On launch day, the creative genius and technical excellence that built the software rightly get celebrated.
But Jordan Henderson has shown us the invaluable impact a leader can make to a team.
Here are a few other things great captains and great project managers have in common and what we can learn from them.
Being the representative on the pitch
Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp is celebrated for his charismatic personality, passion and the way he drives the Liverpool team. During a match, Jordan Henderson acts as his representative on the pitch, driving the team forward and leading by example.
PMs, as that main point of contact, are also there to represent what their clients are passionate about in their business.
Whether it’s how this project will add value to their customers, improve the quality of the service or build the reputation of their business, project managers need to champion the end-goal so that the team can work at their peak.
But it’s not enough to understand this, they also need to be able to communicate it from kick-off to end result.
Keeping motivation and momentum
The real key to motivating teams is communicating the difference you’re going to make when you hit that deadline. Driving the team forward, keeping everyone focused on the common goal and their crucial contribution.
Sure, you might be asking someone to animate a video, but you also want to make sure they know that video is going to inform and entertain thousands of people.
Projects, like games of football, can be intense. The PM plays a big part in keeping up the momentum. This means popping up wherever they’re needed to ensure each person’s role is clear and that the nothing gets dropped.
Doing the hidden heavy lifting
Even the most talented, most willing team on the planet, needs the right support to succeed.
Just as Henderson is there whenever his strikers need him, the art of project management means doing the less glamorous stuff so that the star players maximise the amount of value that they can give.
A good PM does the heavy lifting so that their team isn’t spending half their day on phone calls or trying to get to the bottom of details. They can stay focused on doing their part as brilliantly and productively as possible.
Practising their drills
Professional footballers train for hours every single day. They drill the same moves over, and over and over again until they become muscle memory and instinct on the pitch.
Good project managers do the exact same thing. They go over the project plan from the very bottom all the way up to the very top until it gets to the point where it’s second nature.
Ultimately, this helps them develop eyes in the back of their head. They can see what’s coming and stay one step ahead of it.
Thinking on their feet
No matter how well you prepare, every project has unexpected challenges nobody could have anticipated at the start.
So although a good project manager is always shooting for the moon, they know how to adapt when things don’t go exactly to plan.
Like a professional footballer, when one route is blocked they’re nimble and quick to find new space to exploit in order to reach the goal.
Being a good leader means being an excellent communicator.
Project managers take pride in the clarity of their language and speak in a way that minimises misunderstandings.
They’re able to take complex concepts and communicate them in clear ways to the full spectrum of people involved.
Just as a good captain lets others shine, there’s no room for unnecessary technical terminology or ego in project management.
And finally, learning from mistakes
Everyone is just human and even elite football players with years of experience miss more shots than they score.
No project manager is perfect but they’re always honing their skills.
The important thing is that when issues occur they have the ability to quickly get back on their feet and keep on going until they win.
On the outside, project management may look like doing a lot of basic tasks but doing it well is a continuous pursuit of excellence
Just like Jordan Henderson, a great PM is ever-present, working hard to do whatever’s necessary to give teammates the time and space to work their genius and win the match.
At Tangent, we are proud of our PMs’ organisational skills, ownership of every aspect of success and willingness to put in the work and set up each member of the team to deliver successfully.
If you have a goal, these are people you can rely on to make it happen.