Many Project Teams have experienced it: they’ve been doing the same thing over and over, but suddenly their efforts don’t result in success. How did that happen? And how can your team fix it?

Football teams sometimes fall into the same conundrum. After winning against an opponent early in the season, they may lose to the same team during a later game. Identifying where their tactics went wrong typically takes more than simply pointing to any one error.

As project management teams look for ways to return to winning form, they should follow the lead of football clubs. These teams spread their investigation wide to determine how their strategies failed. When the simple answers don’t cut it, Project Teams should look through their entire playbook to see where things when wrong.

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Check your defenses

A football team’s defensive line keeps the other team from gaining the upper hand. Chief among a Project Team’s defensive strategies are the project control tools and methodologies the team uses to ensure tasks are on track, milestones will be reached as planned, scope is being managed appropriately, and the project is generally moving forward the way it should. Stringent controls are crucial for spotting problems early and avoiding the small domino effects that can tumble into a huge disaster. They give the team an opportunity to correct problems before they inflict irreparable damage on the project’s chances of success.

Look at your offensive line

As your Project Team is going for the end zone, a number of strategies are in play on the offensive side to help them reach their achievables. Of primary importance are planning and communication, which give the project its strong foundation and keep it moving forward throughout the entire lifecycle.

Planning. If your efforts during the planning phase fall short, everything else in the project could be handled according to protocol but the results may still be disappointing. Because of time constraints and internal pressures, project teams may feel the early planning stage is the most likely to be compressed or strained.

Communication. Maintaining the flow of information between team members as well as to and from collaborators outside the Project Team is crucial to success. Evaluate if any roadblocks exist that may be hampering the team’s efforts or if communication is simply not happening at the right time.

 Examine recent successes

Football teams are legendary for carefully reviewing past games, looking for things they need to do better next time. If your project post-mortem analyses have been thorough, chances are good the Project Team may have already identified harbingers of your current problem in earlier projects. Even when nothing stands out, go back through recent projects and look for telltale clues that a process or practice isn’t being carried out correctly or that concerns weren’t getting the follow through needed to fully resolve them. The team could be repeating these same mistakes (especially if they were able to succeed in spite of them previously), or it could be that a lack of discipline is now carrying over into other areas.

Evaluate your mentality

Professional sports teams know that mental toughness and attitude are crucial components of success. They’re also keenly aware that overconfidence and complacency are dangerous mindsets to have. Has your Project Team grown so self-assured that they’re no longer concerned when warning signs pop up? Or have they essentially psyched themselves out because they had trouble with earlier projects that were large, complex, or otherwise similar to the project they’re facing now? The team’s attitude may not manifest itself in any one mistake, but it can surely contribute to any number of errors if left unchecked.

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