BMJ Stone
EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Pullman Ermator
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
May 17, 2006 7:36 AM CDT

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory


I'm probably a lot like you: all day long I work pretty darn hard, doing the best I can to represent the company's interests. In my case, it's as a project manager. You may also be a PM, or maybe you're a president, a superintendent, or someone who performs any of the other skills needed to make our industry function. No matter the position, I'm willing to bet that you work pretty darn hard yourself.

Sometimes when I leave work and come home, I just want to relax. Know the feeling? Forget about all of that company stuff for an hour or two. That was my plan a couple of nights ago. And what could take my mind off of project management better than a simple game of basketball? Again, that was my plan, but was I ever wrong!

The "simple" basketball game with the profound PM lesson just happened to be part of the NCAA tournament, lovingly known as "March Madness." And it was a friendly game between UCLA and Gonzaga, two schools with terrific basketball traditions - traditions that should have kept my mind far away from Full Contact Project Management! Wrong again!

By now, you are probably checking the cover of the magazine (yep, it's Masonry, all right), wondering if you had picked up the sports page by mistake. Rest assured, you haven't. And there is a tremendous PM lesson coming your way courtesy of a sporting event played out in front of Coach Gary.

Gonzaga started strong and had UCLA down by 17 points in the first half, although UCLA closed to about a dozen by halftime. The second half continued as a mirror image of the first. With about five minutes left in the game, Gonzaga was still up by about ten, and I was pretty excited as my ?Zags took it to the Bruins. And then it happened: Gonzaga stopped playing a winning game with lots of offense and instead reverted to the "prevent defense," or so it seemed to me. We'll leave that game for a moment to discuss this point.

Much has been written over the years regarding the "prevent defense" strategy, much of it unkind. Someone once offered a truism, which has been oft-repeated: "The only thing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning!"

If you're any kind of a football fan, you have probably witnessed a game or two where a team has given away a game that it had practically already won. How? They stopped doing what worked. Stopped doing what it takes to win. Stopped pressing their offense to score again. Instead, they focused on how to hang on to their lead. For the purpose of today's exercise, I hope that you have personally witnessed such a game. If the losing team was yours, it was probably a painful loss and you will most likely never forget it. Good!

The worst football game I ever attended was my San Diego State Aztecs against the BYU Cougars. It was a huge game - Thursday night national television audience and a championship at stake. The Aztecs were up by 28 points at the half. By the time that game ended, BYU came back and the final score was 52-52. Ouch! My wife and I, along with most of the people in the stadium, just sat there stunned. A chance at greatness had slipped away. All of that work, building up that lead, came to nothing. The game might as well have never been played.

What about you? What was your worst game? What stopped working? What certain victory was given away? It could even have been baseball or golf, or even a project where you didn't give 100 percent. I'll let you ponder that.

The reason I wanted to bring this to your attention is because of the obvious lesson - the connection to our daily lives, and particularly to our work. And please don't mistake the message. I am not preaching against playing defense - quite the contrary. The Full Contact PM approach to defense is alarmingly simple: have a great one. Play to win; don't ever just play "not to lose." Don't ever play "prevent defense."

The application is pretty clear, and you can probably guess where I'm going. But here it is anyway: In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never give up!" Once you start a project, you mount a great defense. When your scope of work changes, you instantly take action, normally by writing a "Winning RFI." For the uninitiated, this kind of an RFI presumes that you are going to win the point. It is designed to let your client know that, apparently, the scope has changed, and that there are time and money consequences. It also asks the question, "How shall we proceed?"

A lot of you know to do this. But, do you continue questioning changes, late in the project, or do you ease up? Do you think to yourself, "Hey, this job's going OK. I don't need to try and get paid for every little thing." And you start playing "prevent defense." You want to be seen as the good guy. Life is sweet. You do ease up. You pass on a couple of opportunities that you could have capitalized on because you were ahead.

And then - BAM! Something hits your project. Your estimator missed a couple of things on the bid. It's not in your budget, but it is clearly on the plans. You are now going to perform this work and pay for it out of your own pocket, because you are contractually obligated to do so. And while you are doing the "free" work - and later when you are paying the bills for this work - it occurs to you that your once-sweet project is no longer that way. Your opportunity to win was surrendered by you before the game was over. And now, when you need it most, it is no longer available to you. Profit has slipped through your fingers.

UCLA was down, but they were not out. They started playing like they had nothing to lose, because, heck, it looked like they had already lost. So they played lights-out for the rest of the game. And Gonzaga, which thought it had the game in the bag, played those last few minutes "not to lose." Instead, they lost the game, their 20-game winning streak, and the opportunity to further in the tournament.

At the end, their defense was anything but great. All it did was to prevent a win. Make sure that, on your projects, you don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Never, never, never give up!

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at

Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management


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