Hand diagramming football play in chalk on chalkboard.

September 5, 2017

8 Common Strategies Football Teams & Startup Teams Use to Ensure Success


A great football team required great talent, but talent alone does not guarantee success. Players need to be trained to endure both physical and mental challenges. Coaches help set goals and lead the team to optimize performance.

In many ways, football parallels the startup of a manufacturing system.

1. Select a Winning Team

Just like a successful football team, a successful startup team also begins with the selection of the team. The startup manager needs to have leadership, technical, and interpersonal skills.

Team members must be selected based on specific skills needed for the distinct project, not just to fill a position. For example, if you are playing against a team known for sacking the quarterback, you may choose to start a quarterback who can scramble, even if you have another better passing quarterback. Likewise, if you are starting up a bottling line, you should select team members that are familiar with the exact type of equipment.

2. Designate Roles in Your Team

The coach must clearly define the roles for all the players. What route does the receiver run? What player does each defensive back cover? Without clearly planning and practicing each play to make sure the players know exactly what to do and when, the team can never be successful, even if each individual player is talented. The same is true for startup teams. Each team member has to know what is expected of them, what they are responsible for, when they have to have it done, and how it affects other team members.

No player can win the game by himself/herself, no matter how good they are. Everyone’s role is important. The startup manager cannot have a successful startup without an excellent supporting cast of team members. Even if the electrical engineering lead is perfect, the startup will not be successful if the night-shift electrical engineer cannot make progress overnight.

3. Set Clear Goals

Everyone knows the goal is to win the game, but you have to have smaller specific personal and team goals in order to achieve the broader goal of winning. Nick Saban would preach to his players: “Don't think about winning the SEC Championship. Don't think about the National Championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That's the process: Let's think about what we can do today, the task at hand.”

4. Optimize Your Schedule

Startups, like football games, have a clear start and end time. The startup manager controls what goes on between those times, like a coach controls what the team does during the game.

It is important to make steady progress throughout the game. If you are down by 28 in the fourth quarter, you are unlikely to come back and win. You have to make the most of every opportunity, and score on every possession. Startup managers have to make steady progress on a startup as well. A successful startup will not rely on the team members working 20 hours a day for the last two weeks of the startup in order to finish on time.

5. Manage Your Risk

In a football game, you would rarely go for a first down on 4th down and 12. It would be better to just punt and trust your defense. However, if there is less than a minute left in the game and you are down by 5 points, it may become an acceptable risk. Startup managers have to be able to recognize risk and determine if they are acceptable or not based on the situation.

Here are two ways to control risk through planning:

Mitigation – making the risks less likely. Practice, practice, practice in order to reduce the likelihood of a risk. If players are properly coached and prepared for the game, their skills improve and they are less likely to make mistakes. If risks can’t be eliminated, they can be mitigated. This could be having your best defensive player cover the other team’s best player, or it could be calling plays based on your team’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

Contingency – making the risks less damaging if they do occur. If a pass is intercepted, the receiver has to know to immediately go on defense and tackle the player that intercepted it. If a player gets hurt, the backup player has to be ready to go into the game at any point in time.

When things start going badly or the team starts deviating from the plan, sometimes you have to call a time out to regroup and refocus all the team members on the plan. Sometimes you even have to take that opportunity to develop a new plan.

6. Guide Your Team

It is important for either a coach or a startup manager to manage all the team members as individuals. With different contributions and motivations, the coach or startup manager has to maintain control of all the individuals and motivate them to work as a team. Interpersonal skills are critical!

Like a football game, startups can be stressful and demanding both physically and mentally. The coach or startup manager has to balance the project goals with taking care of the team members. If team members get hurt or are under too much pressure, they need to be given a break or they will not be effective in their roles. The coach/startup manager has to recognize this before it is too late.

7. Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is one of the most important skills for both a coach and startup manager. The team members must understand the plan and their role in executing it and be motivated to achieve the goal.

Thorough planning determines whether the execution will be successful. A football team may practice for weeks or months for a 60-minute game. Just as coaches and players study their opponent, a startup team studies their environment.

A startup team should spend weeks or months preparing for a relatively short startup execution. All the team members must be familiar with the equipment, the key stakeholders, and all other factors of the startup so they can be prepared for likely challenges. All the team members should be familiar with the game plan, like the startup procedures and review them until they are proficient.

8. Continue to Improve

The team members should review lessons learned from previous projects so they can incorporate them into the next project. This allows ongoing planning that improves the gathering and development of information which generates better decision making and reduces risk in the future.

If you'd like to discuss details related to your startup plan, contact our expert, Paul Perkins at paul.perkins@haskell.com.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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