#Agile Goalie

I came across a quote from Ken Dryden on the role of a Goaltender in hockey and I thought it was a great analogy to what I believe a great Project Manager is. Anyway, here is the quote:

“[A goalie’s] job is to stop pucks, … Well, yeah, that’s part of it. But you know what else it is? … You’re trying to deliver a message to your team that things are OK back here. This end of the ice is pretty well cared for. You take it now and go. Go! Feel the freedom you need in order to be that dynamic, creative, offensive player and go out and score. … That was my job. And it was to try to deliver a feeling.”

Although I have read almost all of Ken Dryden’s books I did not remember coming across this quote before. I feel it also communicates the two responsibilities of a great Project Manager extremely well. These two responsibilities are:

1) Stop the Pucks – Manage the project

This is more the traditional expectations from a Project Manager. Create the Project Plan (in whatever format), manage the plan, resolve issues, submit Change Requests, and produce project communications. These are the more explicit expectations of the role. And like Goaltenders, you need to be proficient at doing this responsibility before you can hope to move onto the second. You can’t inspire confidence unless people believe you are competent in the basic role.

2) Encourage creativity – Inspire the team

Once you are able to convince the team that you are competent, you can move to encourage creativity. This is perhaps the greatest attribute of a great Project Manager, to be able to inspire confidence and trust. If a hockey team is unsure of their goalie, they won’t make that daring cross-ice pass, their defencemen won’t pinch, and the forwards won’t make a blind pass to the open wing. They will stifle their creativity and innovation because they are not confident in the outcome if those actions do not go as planned. But when the team knows their goalie has their back and trusts him or her 100%, the offensive creativity and innovation in unmatched. It is no coincidence that every great dynasty in hockey had a great goaltender who inspired that creativity. You can just name the goalies – Ken Dryden, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy…

To extend the analogy even further, the coach will now create challenging and innovative game plans and strategies because he has confident in his Goaltender. Now not only does the team take greater risks that can result in great things, but the project stakeholders will take on more risk because they trust the Project Manager and the team. That is truly a high-performing team.


Inspiring confidence is two-fold. One is being confident and having the team feed off of your confidence. This is very important and a project with a Project Manager without confidence in the project and team is lost from the start. Two is having the team understand that you are 100% part of the team. Sometimes on projects there tends to be a distinction between the Project Manager and the rest of the team. But when you can sit in the room with the entire team and do project work alongside the entire team, the confidence and energy the Project Manager can instill will encourage the team to accomplish unbelievable things.

If you need any additional proof, here is the classic Ken Dryden pose.

This pose just inspires confidence and communicates that ‘Things are fine back here, I don’t have a concern and neither should you’


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

One thought on “#Agile Goalie”

  1. This is an awesome analogy that I haven’t heard before about what it means to be a great project manager. Great post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: