Project Managers: Quarterbacking Through the Issues

January 30, 2015

project manager quarterbacking

It is very rare that a project can go its entire life cycle without running into issues. And when issues do arise, it’s the Project Manager (PM) who needs to be able to drive resolution to a successful outcome.

While each issue is unique, the approach for handling them should be the same. And it’s an approach that quarterbacks (QBs) use every Sunday afternoon!

When a QB steps to the line of scrimmage, he has already called the play from the playbook (project plan). If everyone executes their job, the play will succeed. Occasionally, however, the QB will see that the defense is lined up in such a way that he knows the odds of success are low. He will then call an audible to make adjustments and the players will be given new assignments very quickly. Once he’s satisfied, he will then set the play off by calling the snap. He is “quarterbacking.”

And this is exactly what the Project Manager needs to do when issues arise. In fact, we can break down what the QB is doing on the field and use exactly the same approach. The PM is quarterbacking the team.

First, assess the situation. Take the time to weigh the situation and assess your options. Step away from the chaos to focus on your thoughts if necessary.  Obviously you don’t have all the time in the world, so you’ll need to accelerate making your decisions. Making decisions while your mind is panicking is only going to worsen the situation.

Second, call audibles.  Huddle with the team to let them know what’s going on and what you need them to do – and this next bit is key – in very specific terms. This is not the time to provide broad direction and let them figure it out. This is the time for you to list out exactly what they need to do, how they need to do it, and by when they need to do it.

Third, execute. Now you’ve got the play in motion. Make sure people are following your instructions and providing you with frequent updates. Keep monitoring and make tweaks along the way. Rely on your offensive line and most dependable team members to keep you upright. This is where they get to display their superstar status, too.

Finally, provide frequent updates to senior management. Don’t wait for the coach to call on you.

The great Vince Lombardi once said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”  Truer words were never spoken on – or off – the field.

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Do you think like a quarterback in your project management career? Learn how to take control with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Paul Dobek is a Program Director for Citi, where he oversees multiple technology initiatives and has been leading projects since 2004. He specializes in delivering large-scale strategic platforms that impact people, process and technology on a global scale. He holds an MBA from NYU majoring in Finance and Economics. In his spare time, Paul enjoys running, yoga, writing (code and short stories) and relaxing with his family. You can find Paul on LinkedIn at

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    The resemblances of the Project Manager with QB are very well articulated and presented.
    I totally agree with the thought train of the author.
    Nice article. Thanks.

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