Full Contact Project Management
The ‘Blue Angels’ Approach to Project Leadership
Precision flying comes from precision teamwork.
Okay…so maybe there isn’t an actual sports movie about the Navy’s incredible flight performance team, the Blue Angels. That’s my disclaimer, since we’ve been examining sports movies this year, taking from them strategies that will help our businesses. But allow me to fudge on this just a bit, because sports movies are all about athletes, and the best, most elite, most highly professional athletes in the world are actually team members from the U.S. military. However, instead of playing for lots of money and scoring points, they do something quite different and extraordinary: They risk their lives, save lives and change lives.
Maybe there’s a lesson here for us. First, some terms. “Pilot” is out. We are talking about military aviators, and they are cut from a different bolt of cloth than the rest of us. They do incredible things, as you know. I once stood alongside the U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier now permanently anchored in San Diego. Staring at that ship, I knew that there was no possible way anyone could ever land a plane, let alone a jet, on that tiny platform. And yet, Navy pilots do it all the time, in all kinds of weather, in pitch black conditions, and on stormy seas. These guys are the best.
What’s the Blue Angels’ secret? If you ask them, you’ll hear them say that they are just ordinary guys, doing extraordinary things. So, the obvious question is: How do the ordinary do something so extraordinary, and how can we apply that to our own business and industry? I have an observation for you.
I was watching the “Blues” fly just a couple of days ago, sitting in the grandstand with 200,000 of my closest friends, and I was struck with the precision of their teamwork. Here’s their plan for precision teamwork:
- They develop a plan
- They practice the plan
- They improve on the plan, and work it to extreme tolerances
- Every team member has a specific job to do, and does it exactly as planned
- Second rate is not tolerated; less-than-perfect is cause for dismissal from the team
- The plan includes more than remaining nicely parked on the tarmac
- Speed is important in order to execute their plan; planes require motion in order to turn.
I could go on, but you get the picture. In my life, I have two Navy ex-carrier pilots, neither of whom was a member of the Blues. Mac was a WW2 dive bomber pilot in the Pacific, and Ed was active in the Gulf, and a graduate of Top Gun. I see in their lives, today, evidence of their commitment to teamwork and excellence, yet their ages are separated by 50 years. That “teamwork” thing has worked in the past, still works today, and I’m pretty sure it’ll work tomorrow, for both you and me.
We are in financial combat, aren’t we? What would happen if we could run our projects as precisely as the Blue Angels run an aerial maneuver? Okay, so maybe we could not get ourselves or our people to be that punctual. But, hey, it should bug the daylights out of us that some people are able to do that, and we can’t.
Some of our competitors might have a pretty poor reputation for doing on-time work. Unless we want to compete based upon price alone (not a good, sustainable business model), then we had better set ourselves apart from the other companies. Our clients, potential clients, and even our bonding and insurance companies, need to see us as the extraordinary team, achieving our measure of construction greatness, using our ordinary guys, who believe in the greatness of their extraordinary team. See how that works?
Copyright 2010 Gary Micheloni