IT Project Manager – Would Cloughie have made a great one?

Brian Clough as an IT Project Manager
Brian Clough as an IT Project Manager

IT Project Manager Champions

Would football team manager skills translate to a great IT Project Manager?

Brian Clough, who took two smaller teams, i.e. teams that would not normally be considered in the top 20 in English football, to win the English Championship. What is more remarkable is that he too both teams from the second division to winning the Championship.

Not many managers have done it once, but none have done it twice.

However, what is even more remarkable is that he took the first team Derby County to the semi finals of the European Cup and they were only beaten because the referee had been bribed the Italian club that they were playing.

Champions of England and Europe

What was absolutely astonishing was that he took the second club, Nottingham Forest, from the Second Division to being Champions of England and then Champions of Europe the next season.

If that was considered a fluke he repeated again the next season when they became Champions of Europe again.

He was known for his staccato man management style. He tended to knock the older players out of their stride to make them become better players. However, he motivated the younger players confidence and gave them belief in their own abilities.

It was one of the great American football coaches who said that there are a lot of great technical coaches but it the guys who can get inside their footballers‘ heads who rose to the very top and won the most trophies.

Would it Translate to IT Project Manager Skills?

So, is that the same in IT?

Does that apply to Project Management of large IT projects?

You bet it does!

Although most management time is spent on getting the right tools, languages and equipment in place followed by putting the right methodologies and techniques in place, studies have constantly shown that it should all be the other way around.

I remember seeing study done one time which showed the relative importance of People, Methods and Tools in creating greater productivity in a project or in an IT department.

IT Project Manager Result

I knew what the results were anyway, in terms of orders, but even I was surprised by the percentages.

If I remember correctly it went:-

67% – People
21% – Methods & Techniques
12% – Tools

In other words management were concentrating in completely the wrong area when they concentrated on tools and Methods.

In Practice

I‘ve actually seen it in practice.

At one place where I was CIO, we had an in-house project using 3GL languages like Vax Basic and other more backward databases and tools. We also had a project that we outsourced to a software house which used all the latest tools as we didn‘t have the skills in-house.

It was a big mistake and the outsourced project bombed!

Their people tended to look down on our people who worked on the project in the way that six formers do with fifth formers.

However, we concentrated on people and we concentrated on good methods for those people.

The software house had all the best tools and quite good people, but they weren‘t as good or as motivated as our people.

They also had pretty ropey methods and techniques whereas as we put an emphasis on this.

Big Difference in Productivity

As a result the productivity of our people on our backward project was greater than that of the software house on the brand spanking new project.

It wasn‘t even close. Our people had more than double the productivity of their people.

People like Cloughie and Vince Lombardi knew this. They got as good a set of players as they could get. They then got ‘˜inside their heads‘ to motivate them and get from them all that they could give.

They then gave them good methods and techniques so that they could operate very effectively as a team.

Good Feel of an IT Project Manager

I always felt that the greatest skill in project management was in your sensitivity to the people in your team. It was what I used to call ‘feel‘.

It‘s a bit like golfers. As someone once said you could give someone as many coaching sessions as they wanted, but unless they had the ‘feel‘ you couldn‘t turn them into a Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods or Seve Ballesteros.

Although there are definitely types of people that react better to the carrot and those that react better to the stick, it is not as simple as that. Each person on the team is an individual and each is motivated and inspired towards greater productivity in slightly different ways.

It is the successful project managers who can understand each of the people in their team individually and who can get the best out of them. It is the best project managers who need to know when to use the carrot and when to use the stick, even for individuals.

Great Managers Adapt – So Does a Great IT Project Manager

Cloughie would have understood this – as would Vince Lombardi.

The great managers at anything can adapt to circumstances and they can adapt to each different person that they come across.

For this reason I believe that Cloughie‘s skills and man management techniques would have translated to Project Management in the IT environment and he would have been highly successful at it.

Can you imagine a team where Cloughie was the Project Manager?

Would you bet against it being delivered on time, AND to budget?

Cloughie gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure and a lot of happiness. He certainly made a huge mark on the football world and beyond. Everyone in Britain knew who he was – even if they didn‘t like football.

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