Monday, March 27, 2017

Stakeholder Personas Part 4 - Data Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.   Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the data-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The data-oriented stakeholder trusts the data.  They don’t care who collected it or what procedure they used, provided the approach was valid.  They just want to know the facts.  Give them test results, survey results, or the output from your model, and they are ready to make a decision.  Give them your opinion, or even the opinion of several subject matter experts, and they will still want to go run a test or do a study to confirm it with facts.  They believe that mistakes are made when we make decisions based upon assumptions and opinions - facts are needed to reduce the risk.  They may ask where or how you got the facts, but that is just to be certain that you are not making them up or using inappropriate data.  And you can count on them to check the math on your presentation slides to be sure everything is adding up.  If there is a mistake, they will catch it, and at that point you will have lost credibility. 

Interaction Style

The key to interaction with this stakeholder will be to communicate through data.  You can summarize the data, but always be ready to provide the details behind your summary and conclusions.  These individuals will often appreciate a statistical analysis of the data – and they will understand the statistics so be sure you do your calculations correctly.  If there are holes in the data, know why you do not have that data and be ready to explain either why it does not matter or what you are doing to collect that data.  The types of questions they will be asking are:
“What tests or analysis did you do and what was the result?”
“How many tests have you run?  How big was your sample in the study?”
“Is this consistent with other data we have seen? If not, why not?”
They would appreciate getting the full data set from your test or study.  You don’t need to provide that in a presentation, but you should have a handout ready to give to them that includes that data.
If the data is clear, they will make a quick decision.  If the data is inconclusive or incomplete, they will ask for more studies, tests, and analysis until the data gives a clear picture.  They do not want to be rushed or pressured into making a decision. 

Key Messages

When discussing your project, have the actual data – cost, schedule, or performance data – associated with the issue being discussed.  Be ready to explain the thresholds for what is considered to be good or acceptable levels and what is a problem.  You can then defend your position or ask for your change based upon what the data says.  The discussions should focus on the validity and completeness of the data followed by the implication for your project or organization.  If you don’t have data, don’t ask for a decision. Instead discuss the approach you will be using to collect data.

Good News and Bad News

For these individuals, bad news is missing, suspect or incomplete data and good news is clear valid data that tells an unequivocal story.  Even if something catastrophic happened on the project, if the data clearly indicates the cause and you are able to correct or avoid that cause in the future, this will be considered good news.  However, if something either good or bad happens and you don’t know why, that is bad news to this stakeholder.  It is an indication of an out of control situation.  If you find yourself in that position, be ready with a plan for investigation that will lead to facts and data to explain what happened.

Final Thoughts

If you come to these individuals armed with facts, data, and analysis, these individuals will be supportive. If you don’t have data or you can’t explain it, they will tear you apart.   I have had the privilege to work with several stakeholders who operated in this fashion.  In one case, I was able to quickly make a major scope change in a large project because I had the data to back up my recommendation.  I must admit that early in my career I have been caught a few times in meetings with this type of stakeholder where I did not have my facts straight.  Those quickly became very uncomfortable meetings.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stakeholder Personas Part 3 - Process Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.   Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the process-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The process-oriented stakeholder trusts the business processes and procedures.  These stakeholders want to make sure everything is being done the right way.  They believe that the business processes, procedures, and checklists are established for a reason and that reason is to reduce risk and help the business make wise decisions.  In fact, they believe that most mistakes and problems in the organization are because people did not follow the processes, procedures, and checklists.  And they have they have the examples to prove their point.  They want to know that the correct procedures are being followed.  And if the circumstances are outside of an existing procedure, they want a structured problem solving process to be used to deal with the situation and the documentation of the result to be used in the creation of a new procedure to address that issue if it ever comes up again.  They may come across as bureaucratic.     

Interaction Style

The key to interaction with this stakeholder will be to communicate through the correct channels for the type of information being presented.  If it is a budget report, stick to financial topics.  If it is a schedule status meeting, don’t get sidetracked into dealing with a personnel issue.  Use the correct forum, use the correct format, and address the correct topics.  The types of questions they will be asking are:
  • “What did you do first and why?  Then what? Then what?”
  • “Have you followed the correct process?  What was the result?”
  • “Have all the appropriate individuals/organizations been contact? What was their response?”
They would prefer to see the completed checklist or a step by step walk-through of the process and what happened at each step. 
They do not want to be rushed or pressured into making a decision.  They want to go through all the steps and they believe that by the end of the process the correct decision will be obvious to everyone and easy to make.  Generally speaking, they do not like argument, debate and controversy.

Key Messages

When discussing your project always explain what procedures and checklists have been completed or are in-process.  Be prepared to discuss the results or conclusions of the those procedures.  If a procedure is in-process, explain how much progress has been made and how long it will take to finish the procedure.  Then if the interaction is a decision point, be prepared to explain the options that are available and the criteria that should be used when selecting an option.  Be ready with the documentation of the results of every procedure, process or checklist that has been completed.

Good News and Bad News

For these individuals, bad news is an individual or team not following the standard procedures and good news is that, even though something catastrophic has happened, there was a procedure for that and it is being followed.  They will be very supportive if you have “played by the rules” and totally unsupportive if they believe the individual or team is “just winging it.”  If the situation is one for which there is no procedure, process, or checklist, pick one that is close and use it as a guiding framework.  Always have a plan.  Even if it is a plan to create a plan – have a plan.

Final Thoughts

If you are following the business processes and procedures, these individuals will be supportive, if you aren’t they will not trust any information or recommendations you provide.   I have had the privilege to work with several stakeholders who operated in this fashion.  By following the procedures; I found that I was quickly able to gain their trust and confidence and I could accurately predict how they would react to almost any situation.  By the same token, I have seen project managers fired during a meeting when they admitted that they had ignored a procedure. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stakeholder Personas: Part 2 - Expert-Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.   Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the expert-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The expert-oriented stakeholder puts their confidence in experience and track records of individuals.  Typically, these people are themselves an expert in their area.  They are personally self-confident within their area of expertise and they have developed a network of other experts that they rely upon.  For those inside their circle of experts, they will provide tremendous support and latitude.  For those outside the circle they; are far less trusting.  It is interesting that some expert-oriented stakeholders put an emphasis on schooling, degrees and certifications.  Others put an emphasis on the track-record of individuals on other projects.  But regardless how the stakeholder determines who is an expert, once their find one they lean on them and trust their judgement.  These individuals are quick to delegate authority to experts, and reluctant to delegate it to those whose expertise they doubt.  They definitely will “play favorites” and won’t hesitate to communicate outside the normal channels to talk to their network of experts.   

Interaction Style

The key to interaction with this stakeholder depends upon whether you are inside their circle of experts or not.  When inside the circle, quick high-level communication is often all that is needed.  If you are not inside the circle, your communication needs to carry the support of experts that the stakeholder trusts to be taken seriously. Whether you are providing a status update, a project review, or an issue report, they will want to know if what you are telling them has been reviewed and approved by the experts. Their typical questions from them will be:

  • “Who is working with you on this?”
  • “Who else have you presented this too?  What did they say?”
  • “Have you talked with …… yet?”
They would prefer a presentation that leads with who is involved, the bottom line opinion or decision of those involved, and then if there are still questions to be resolved, who you would like to have work with you to resolve them.
If their circle of experts are supporting a position, it is almost certain they will support it also.  If the experts are against it, they will be against it.  If the other experts are mixed, they will study the issue with you.  If you can’t tell them where the other experts stand on the issue, they will send you back to do more homework.

Key Messages

When discussing your project always be ready to bring in your experts.  You do not need to know everything, but you do need to know when to rely on the experts on the team or in the organization.  If you are presenting a major decision or issue for resolution, invite other experts to the meeting, or have their comments and perspective ready to present as part of the support for your recommendation.  Let me also add that through-out your interactions with this stakeholder, if you are not already in their circle of experts, you should be aspiring to be.  Demonstrate your own expertise, not at the expense of others, but it is appropriate to acknowledge you experience and training if they are applicable to the issue being discussed.   The point is that you need to establish you own credibility if you want to move into that circle.

Good News and Bad News

For these individuals, they won’t believe any good news until it is verified by an expert they trust.  And they won’t get panic over any bad news if your communication of the bad news includes the experts you are bringing in to help.  The first question in their mind is always, “Who?” Who else has seen this news and what is their opinion?  That doesn’t mean you should delay your communication of bad news until you have experts lined up.  You can immediately notify the stakeholder of the bad news and ask for their help to get you an expert to assist with the problem resolution.

Final Thoughts

If you are inside the circle of experts, these are great stakeholders for your project.  They will let you do what you need to do and support you along the way.  I have had the privilege to work with several stakeholders who operated in this fashion.  Once I won their trust, my projects had priority in the organization and we achieved some fantastic results.  I have also had the misfortune to work for one stakeholder who operated in this style and whose trust I never won.  Every project of mine was challenged, delayed, and micro-managed.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

Stakeholder Personas: Part 1 – Action Oriented

Stakeholder management is a major aspect of project management.  The Project Management Institute identifies it as one of the ten major knowledge areas of project management and has numerous tools and best practices for managing stakeholders.  But let’s face it.  You don’t manage the stakeholders.  In fact, it is much more likely that they are managing you.  So what you manage are your interactions with the stakeholders.
   
Now “interactions” implies that there are at least two individuals involved, you and the stakeholder.  In this series, I want to address the best practices for interacting with stakeholders based upon how they normally interact.  This is based upon what they consider to be compelling issues and their primary area of concern.  I have identified five personas that represent the types of stakeholders I have encountered over the years.  These are the action-oriented stakeholder, the expert-oriented stakeholder, the process-oriented stakeholder, the data-oriented stakeholder and finally the uninterested stakeholder.  In this post I will talk about interacting with the action-oriented stakeholder.

The Stakeholder

The action-oriented stakeholder likes to see things happening.  They are very interested in making forward progress so their first concern is always the schedule.  They are addicted to adrenaline.  They love to be at the center of the action and are energized by the frenzy of activity.  Problems don’t disappoint them, they excite them because it is an opportunity to dive into a situation and make something happen.  When there isn’t obvious action on a project, they assume nothing is happening.   Typically, these individuals enjoy the spotlight and attention that goes with being in the middle of a crisis and working to resolve it.   The fact that a too quick reaction or over-reaction to a problem can make the problem even worse does not concern them.  These individuals can make great change agents or dynamic leaders in times of crisis.  But they can also exhaust an organization or team over time by creating unnecessary crises.

Interaction Style

The two key elements of any interaction with this stakeholder is immediacy and the next steps.  They want to know what is happening.  Always lead with the schedule when giving them a status update.  If there is a problem somewhere on your project, they want to know as soon as possible and they want to know what you are doing.  They don’t need a complete plan, but they want to know you are working on the problem.  Their typical questions will be:
  • “What is happening now?”
  • “What are you going to do next?”
  • “How can I help?”

Normally, they prefer frequent short crisp communications rather than in-depth analysis.  They would rather get a quick text or phone call giving them the current status than get a well rehearsed formal project presentation or detailed report providing background and options.   
They also are ready to make quick decisions.  Tell them what you want or need and expect an immediate response.  In fact, a way to encourage them to make a decision is to let them know that action on a project has stopped until the decision is made.

Key Messages

When discussing your project always have a schedule status.  Explain what has been accomplished and what is underway.  When presenting a project problem with this stakeholder, you don’t need to have all the answers.  They would rather interact many times through a series of short-term action plans, than to have one major interaction with a master plan that covers the entire project and options.  In particular, they want to know what you are doing and what they can do.  Expect them to make quick decisions and to offer help.  I recommend that you interact with frequent concise status updates of what is happening.  Remember, if they are not aware of any action, they assume nothing is happening. 

Good News and Bad News

For these stakeholders, both forward progress and crisis problems are good news.  A project that is in the midst of a long analysis or that is waiting for deliveries from suppliers or even worse, waiting on an approval from someone else before it can continue, is bad news.  A great way to communicate and interact with them is through a schedule chart that has at least one or two events or milestones every week.  Then it is easy to show progress and action.  They don’t consider unexpected events or deviations from plan to be bad news, but rather they are “opportunities.”  In fact, to them, a bad news message is when they didn’t find out about a problem as soon as it occurred.

Final Thoughts


I appreciate these stakeholders when running innovation, organizational change or crisis projects.  They are ready and willing to make decisions and keep things moving forward whenever the inevitable changes or roadblocks are identified.  However, they can be disruptive at times.  I was running a project a few years ago and one of the stakeholders was of this type.  He would often show up at project meetings and start giving directions to the project team, totally disrupting the plan and current activities.  In order to manage our project interactions, I eventually had to tell him he was not allowed to attend team meetings (an interesting discussion given that he was my boss’s boss).  What we agreed to do was for me to meet with him several times a week to provide status and let him know how he can help us move the project along.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Value in Non-Value Added Activities

With the wide-spread acceptance of Lean Manufacturing and Lean Enterprise principles, the term “non-value added activities” has come into the business lexicon.  These are the activities that an organization performs that do not directly contribute to the generation of customer value.  Within the context of manufacturing, these activities are categorized as one of these types of waste.
  • Over-production, ahead of demand – wasted effort.
  • Waiting for the next process step – wasted time.
  • Unnecessary transport of product or goods – wasted effort.
  • Over-processing of product due to poor process design – wasted effort.
  • Inventories greater than necessary – wasted cost.
  • Unnecessary movement of employees (looking for tools, paperwork, help, etc.) – wasted effort.
  • Producing defective parts – wasted time, cost, and effort.

The Lean Value Stream Map categorized all of the activities in a business process into either value-added steps or non-value-added steps.  Even the value-added steps are further analysed and the time spent conducting that step is divided into value-added time and non-value-added time.

Implementing Lean has led to improvements in productivity and cycle time.  This has often transformed an operation; improving both customer satisfaction and profitability.  But sometimes, implementing Lean has not resulted in dramatic improvements for the business. 

Of course there are the Lean implementation failures, which seem to occur at least 50% of the time.  These are often due to poor management commitment and understanding, inadequate training, and the difficulty of culture change.  But I would like to discuss a different type of failure.  This is the failure to see improved customer satisfaction and the increase in sales and profitability after a “successful” Lean implementation.

This condition occurs when the company misunderstands the elements of value from a customer perspective.  Yes, there is value in the efficacy of the product.  The customer wants it to work to the expected level of fidelity and be reliable and durable enough to continue working through the expected life.  The Lean manufacturing definition of value-added activities will cover these elements of value. 

But many customers also want other aspects of value that are not directly tied to product performance.  These include brand affinity, ease of doing business, and a sense of personal engagement with the company. 

Let me give you an example.  Many companies have “Leaned” their customer service and help desk functions.  Now when a customer calls the company with a question or complaint, they are routed into an endless series of “push this number” and “select this number” until they finally are placed on a lengthy hold, waiting to talk to a live body.  Often that live body can’t answer any questions, but can only read from a script.  So while the company thinks it has “Leaned” customer service by eliminating non-value-added effort, the customer feels abandoned, belittled and unwanted.  Activities the company categorized as non-value-added because they did not support the manufacture of product, were activities that were very important to the customer.  The result is a customer who experiences a reduction in value, not an improvement in service.

An internal, product-centric view of “value” can lead a company to remove activities and functions that are important to overall customer satisfaction and that build a strong relationship with the customer.  A Lean initiative needs to start with a true understanding of what the customer values.  This should not be determined by the design engineers, manufacturing managers, or even the Lean consultants.  This needs to be determined through voice of the customer analysis. 

In many industries today, the new competitive advantage is creating and establishing a personal relationship between the company and the customer.  “Leaning” these customer interaction processes can destroy competitive advantage.  Strong positive relationships take time and numerous positive interactions.  Lean processes that minimize and eliminate interactions are eliminating value-added activities – even though the activities may have nothing to do with the product.

So let me propose, as an adjunct to the list of activities used in Lean analysis to define a waste, a list of activities that define value-add.
  • Activities that directly answer specific customer questions.
  • Activities that provide special privileges and offers to existing customers.
  • Activities that measure customer engagement and satisfaction with the company and its products and services.
  • Activities in the company’s operations that create or add to the functionality of products or services.
  • Activities that build customer confidence in the company’s brands, products and services.

I’m not suggesting that a company should abandon Lean or ignore the attributes of waste.  I am suggesting that a company should embrace the attributes of value.  Prepare a value stream map for the attributes of value and ensure that these value-adding processes are operating smoothly.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pivoting Project Management Reviews

Entrepreneurs are using the terms “pivot” and “persevere” to identify strategies for decision-making.  When confronted with a situation that is not leading to the desired results, they must decide whether to gut it out and persevere on the current path, or pivot to a new direction and new approach. 
This decisions process can and should apply to many of our business and project management practices.  If your practices are not leading to the desired results, make a conscious decision to pivot or persevere. 

Let’s talk about the project management practice of project reviews by senior management.  Are the reviews leading to better project execution and performance?  Are the reviews leading to better project selection and planning?  Are the reviews leading to better project portfolio performance in terms of business impact?  If the answer is, “No,” and you have been doing the same types of reviews for years, it is probably time to pivot.

Project Management Reviews

Let me describe the typical project management review I see when I first visit a new client.  Senior management is reviewing project status on a regular basis – normally tied to the calendar.  For example, one client had a weekly review a summary of all open projects and a “deep dive” on two or three projects based upon which projects were perceived to be in the most trouble.  At the deep dive portion of the reviews, the emphasis was upon the status of the problems or issues that had occurred and what the team was doing about those issues.  The project team received lots of “help” to fix the current problem, but there was seldom any discussion about extrapolating from the current issue to foresee future issues or to share lessons learned from this situation with other project teams so that they could avoid the same problems.

My recommendation for a project management review pivot is to change from this backwards-looking, reactive project management reviews to a forward-looking preventive project review.  What do I mean?  The project review should be focused upon all the open and remaining risk threats on the project (not just the current crisis) and the resources and management actions needed to reduce or eliminate those threats.  And when you get that working well, add a discussion about the possible risk opportunities for the remainder of the project and the resources and management actions that will enable those opportunities to be realized.

Superman

The current approach leads to a “superman” mentality among project leaders.  They bounce from crisis to crisis, using their superpowers to overcome each one.  They don’t prevent problems, they just solve them.  The leaders get great credit and often rewards for their effort.  In fact they often take on “rock star” status within the organization.  While they may be good fire-fighters, I would not call them good project managers.

Let me relate a story from a client of mine.  His high-tech firm had two major development projects underway.  Both were developing new product lines using emerging technology.  Both projects were large be this company’s standards – they were planned for three to four years in duration, with a budget of over $20 million, and a large team located in multiple sites.  Both projects were managed by senior project leaders with strong technical, business and inter-personal skills. 

One project leader, we will call him Jack, was a fire-fighter.  His team faced many problems and challenges and he overcame all of them.  Granted it took late nights, weekends, and some creative solutions but with his charismatic personality he rallied the team and they come through. The project was a major market success.  However, the project finished more than a year late and several million dollars overrun.

The other project leader, we will call him Dave, was a risk manager.  Dave emphasized proactive risk management.  He had a well-developed plan with risk triggers and options that were used by the team.  His project did have several minor fires that had to be resolved, but nothing like the problems that occurred on Jack’s project.   Dave also had a major market success.  But Dave’s project was only two months late and came in on budget.

So now it is six months later and the business is going through a major restructuring due to some problems in a different division.  The business is downsizing and it only needs one senior project leader.  So Dave was laid off.  I asked the senior management why they laid off Dave instead of Jack.  Their response surprised me.  In their opinion, Jack was a superhero who could fix any problem, but they didn’t know if Dave could handle the stress of a major project in crisis.

I pulled together a summary of the two projects, including the major challenges that each had to overcome.  I identified the proactive risk approaches that Dave had used and the absence of those in Jack’s project.  Several of the senior managers told me they had never stopped to consider the risk management approach in the project reviews.  They never asked about risk avoidance and mitigation. They were just focused on the current crisis and what was being done to fix it.

The Pivot

So if you want to transform your project performance, I encourage you to consider pivoting your project management review approach.  When reviewing a project, I recommend the following topics.
  • Quick review of the Project Charter.  Remind everyone of the project’s purpose and goals.
  • Current status with respect to the project plan.  Make sure the team is reporting against the plan and don’t just give a list of the things that they have been doing.  If they aren’t working the plan find out why. 
  • Risk issues with their response or mitigation strategies that should be encountered or resolved within the near future.   Ensure the team has an adequate strategy and resources to resolve the risks.
  • New risk issues that have been discovered since the last review.  What changed to create these risk issues and what other impacts could those changes have on the project.
  • Critical milestones and decisions that will occur on the project in the near future.  These are potential risk points and senior management may want or need to engage with those activities.

Changing your project management reviews into risk reviews will pivot your project management approach from reactive to proactive.  I can assure you the project performance and business impact will improve.  But some of your superhero project leaders may resist the change.  They are fire-fighters and want a fire to fight.  Risk based project reviews will suppress fires and expose these leaders as the arsonists whose poor project management practices are what started the fires.   

Monday, April 11, 2016

Practical Idealism

Those two words are normally considered opposites.  I’ve heard for years that “idealists” aren’t “practical.”   “Practical” is grounded in reality.  “Idealism” is wishful thinking that can’t be achieved.  But by the same token, “idealists” challenge us to improve and go beyond our current performance, whereas “practical” approaches are stuck in the current paradigm.   If we could put them together, practical idealism could lead to an innovative approach that is transformational. 

This isn’t just hypothetical.  There is a real-life example right now in the sports world of what happens when practical idealism is implemented.  Have you heard of the University of Connecticut (UCONN) women’s basketball team?  Here are a few facts about them:
  • They just won their fourth straight national title – no women’s basketball team has ever done that.
  • They have won 75 straight games – all by double figures.
  • Their average margin of victory this season (including the NCAA tournament) was 39 points.
  • The program has a 100% graduation rate and over 80% of the players have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Their coach has won more national titles (11) than any other coach in college basketball – men or women.

Now this type of dominance does not mean that the sport of women’s college basketball is in decline or immature. The caliber of the competition and the quality of the players has been improving for years. There are tremendous women athletes in this sport. And between all of the other teams that play women’s college basketball, there is fierce competition. In my opinion, women’s college basketball exemplifies better team play than men’s college basketball – which is dominated by individual play. It is a tough, competitive, athletic sport. 

Yet UCONN performs at a level that is far above everyone else.  Why is that? Practical idealism. 

UCONN’s coach, Geno Auriemma, sets idealistic goals for the team and each individual.  Their goal as a team is not to be competitive, but rather to be dominant.  And their measure of performance is not only against the other team, it is against their previous performance.  The team is always striving to get even better.  But Auriemma also focuses on personal goals for each of his players.  That is why they have a 100% graduation rate and such high GPAs.  Any coach who lists these yearly goals for his team is an idealist:
  1. Go undefeated.
  2. Win the national championship.
  3. Beat opponents by an average of 40 points.
  4. Team members have a 3.0 or higher GPA.     

What makes UCONN different is that they have established a practical approach for achieving these idealistic goals.  The UCONN women’s basketball team works as hard as any college team in the nation.  Their practices are tough and exhausting.  They work on basic skills and on teamwork.  They are constantly seeking to improve.  Every turnover, every missed shot, every lost rebound from the previous game is scrutinized to understand what happened and prevent that from occurring again.   While the Auriemma shows genuine care and concern for each player, he also challenges and pushes them to be their best.  He refuses to accept complacency or mediocrity from any player in any aspect of her game.
 
Granted, UCONN is able to recruit from among the best high school women basketball players. But there is lots of talent to go around in women’s college basketball today. UCONN is only able to recruit 12 players for scholarships. They have talented team members, but so do many other programs. And UCONN does not limit their schedule to playing “powder puff” teams. In the final rankings of women’s college basketball for the 2015-2016 season, UCONN was number one and they played six of the remaining nine (beating all of them by double digits).    

Early this year, Auriemma quoted Julius Caesar as the team was preparing for a game, “Vini, Vidi, Vici” – we came, we saw, we conquered.  The attributes of dominance that were the hallmark of the Roman Legions 2,000 years ago were used to inspire his team this year.  “We came.”  They will go anywhere and play anybody.  In fact, they try to schedule the best teams in the nation.  “We saw.”  They study their opponents and prepare for them.  Some of the teams are bigger, some are great shooters, some play tenacious defense.   Doesn’t matter.  UCONN negates their strength, often by besting them at their own game.   “We conquered.”  UCONN teams hustle.  They are always working hard.  They dominate many aspect of the game.  And even when the “second string” enters the game – often early in the second half – they continue to dominate. 

So what are the lessons of “practical idealism” we can learn from UCONN?  
  • First, it is OK to be idealistic. Set big goals – seemingly impossible goals. 
  • Second, recruit talented people. Find the best people available and embed them into your team.
  • Third, work hard at the basics. There should be excellence in everything you do. Don’t accept mediocrity on any level.
  • Fourth, study your competition to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Then work to be as good or better than they are at their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
  • Fifth, continuously improve. Set the standard of performance and then exceed your own standard.
  • Sixth, coach and encourage your people fulfill their personal goals and to be successful in all walks of life.
The UCONN story is inspiring.  Oh, and it is also excellent basketball.