A Football Fan’s Guide to Project Management
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A Football Fan’s Guide to Project Management

September 1, 2015

Some might say that the career of a quantitative researcher is about as different as could be from that of a professional football player, but there are actually a lot of similar guidelines that both follow in order to be successful. Here are 5 rules that both football players and market researchers should always abide by:

It’s my favorite time of year: football season! For four glorious months, my mood on Monday is directly correlated with the outcome of the weekend’s Eagles game.

As a quantitative researcher, some might say that my career is about as different as could be from that of a professional football player. But there are actually a lot of similar guidelines that we both follow in order to be successful. Here are 5 rules that both football players and market researchers should always abide by:

Know Which Play You’re Running Before the Snap

Imagine getting into a football huddle and having the quarterback tell you that, on the upcoming play, the team is going to “score a touchdown”. You’d have a ton of follow-up questions on exactly HOW that was going to happen. Objectives that are too high-level – like “score a touchdown” – usually don’t end well; details are the key to success.

The same is true for a research study. Making sure everyone is on the same page about the end goal – and being as detailed as possible about exactly how those objectives are going to be achieved – is critical for ensuring that the final results address the core issue and are actionable.

Communicate with Your Teammates – Let Them Know Where You Need Them on the Field

All team members should be clear about what their role is and what their responsibilities are. Whether you’re a quarterback or a project manager, you have the same obligation to your teammates: you need to be clear about where you need coverage, who should be blocking, and who should be taking the ball and running with it.

It’s also imperative to foster a trusting environment so that team members feel comfortable being open and honest. If anyone on the team is struggling with the roles that they’ve been assigned, it’s important that they feel safe vocalizing the problems they are facing so that adjustments can be made to the game plan.

Check in with the Coach as You’re Moving Down the Field

Sometimes when you’re on the field in the middle of the game, it can be hard to take a step back and see the big picture. That’s why the coaches are on the sideline to help players determine what to do next and when to adjust their actions.

This type of senior oversight is extremely valuable for market research projects too. At Kelton, we have a senior lead on every project. Project managers and researchers who are in the weeds on a project sometimes need someone who is watching closely from the sideline to help guide the project to victory. Calling time outs and checking in with the “coach” can ensure that a project stays on track (or gets back on track if a problem pops up).

Running Around on the Field is Not the Same as Running a Play

In the history of football, no coach has ever said, “get out there, run around, and it’ll all just come together for you.” If a coach did give those instructions before a game then his players might occasionally get lucky and end up with the ball. But, much more often than not, they’d end up winded and in a terrible position as the clock ran out on them.

The same is true for market researchers who are in the analysis and report creation phase of a project. It’s important to remember that creating slides is not the same thing as conducting an analysis. Conducting an analysis involves reviewing your data in depth, identifying the key insights that your client needs to know, and developing a framework for communicating those insights. Once that is done, then you can move on to designing the slides that will communicate the story to the client.

A researcher who “runs around” by charting data, creating a ton of slides, and trying to figure out the story from there usually gets into a ton of trouble; he/she ends up winded and in a terrible position as the clock runs out and the report deadline quickly approaches.

Hold Press Conferences After Every Game

After every football game, the coach and players will hold a press conference to communicate their thoughts on the game they just played, how things are going this season, and what they plan to adjust in upcoming games. It’s a way for the team to speak to the fans because, in the end, that’s who is most important – the team is playing for their fans.

Similarly, a research team is “playing” for their client and needs to communicate with the client throughout the project. At each stage of the project, the research team should be sharing their strategy with the client to ensure that the client feels looped into the game plan. Having a standing weekly call is a great way to make sure that these check-ins are happening on a regular basis.

So the next time you are assigned to lead a market research project, just think to yourself “What Would Peyton Manning Do?” and follow these rules in order to be successful. Best of luck…unless you’re a Cowboys fan, that is.

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