Why #Goalies make the best Project Managers and Leaders #PMOT


I was driving with my brother back from a family event and we started talking about the upcoming Jets and Flames hockey seasons. After some speculating on free agent signings, we started to talk about the qualities of good Project Manager and Leaders. That balance good leaders have between being persistent and committed and being able to admit a mistake and change course. There is a whole continuum of leaders that give in too quickly and some that never give in at all. What makes once person able to move on quicker than another?

We agreed that while we aren’t sure where those points are for every situation,  but we did agree on one thing. If you have been a goalie, you will find that point easier than other people. Here are the five reasons your next leader or Project Manager should be a goalie.

Goalies know they can’t win by themselves – focus on the project

No matter how good a goalie is, they can’t win games by themselves. This helps immensely to keep egos in check. They know they need forwards to score goals and defenceman to help keep goals out of their own net. More than any other position, you are brutally aware on how the entire team is needed.

In addition, your role as a Goalie is to give the rest of the team confidence as well. The rest of the team should not have to worry about bad goals in our own goal. Our team should have the freedom to challenge and rush when the opportunity arises.

Goalies know that the focus needs to be on the wins and not the goals. It is about the project and not the tasks.

Goalies know you can’t win them all – look forward

Goalies are perfectionists in their craft and in all things except having a good memory. Goalies are also extremely forgiving with their teammates and their mistakes. This provides an interesting dichotomy. I am a perfectionist until that pucks is in the net, then I need to be able to wipe the slate clean and move on. Usually there is a quick re-evaluation process and then you need to move on. This requires a short memory and a good amount of confidence.

Even more, Goalies understand that the games is made up of 20-30 mini-games and they need to be ready for the next one. You can’t get too high or too low.

Bad decisions and mistakes are part of the game. Everyone makes them so it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time on persecuting the guilty. Fish the puck out and move on….

Goalies know about perfect shots or deflections – don’t over plan, over analyze

You can have the perfect angle and sometimes a shot is going to beat you or is going to be deflected. That is just life and it is no ones fault. Good Goalies spend minimal time looking backward and almost all their time looking forward.

This also help Goalies to not over plan. People can over plan or over analyze because their believe it will increase the chances of success. Goalies realize that even if you spend two weeks working on something, a deflection is still likely. Rather than spending all that time planning, spend time on how you will recover because you know a deflection is going to happen.

Goalies realize communication is the key – communicate

For those of you that haven’t been on ice level, Goalies are probably the chattiest players on the ice. Always chirping our information to the defencemen – ‘time’ , ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘point’, ‘DUCK’

Goalies realize the key is rebound control – deal with issues immediately

Goalies and Project Managers and Leaders realize that issues happen. What they all realize is that it doesn’t matter how or why the issue arose, just how can we get it resolved. Having an issue is not a bad thing, booting the issue around in front of the net for 3 or 4 shots is a bad thing and will lead to a goal.

Find the issue, locate the issue, cover the damn thin up a get a whistle.

Goalies guide projects to where they want them to go – minimize risk

When I played a lot, I had a great glove hand. My brother had great lower body reflexes. So what did we do? We showed more or less to influence the shots to go to our strengths.

Similarly, a great Project Manager or leader will guide the project to where he knows the project is prepared. He or she will know the high-risk areas and compensate for those areas. I always used to hug the stick side post.


But Terry, you say, ‘I’m not a goalie, does that mean I can’t be a Project Manager?’

Not at all. But if you are a good Project Manager, it means you probably would be a good goalie. 🙂


Are #NoEstimates #UnCanadian ?


Yep, I’ve come to realize that part of my trouble to rationalize the No Estimates movement is that they are UnCanadian. There are some things that become a part of you when you live and Canada and especially in the Canadian Prairies. Let me explain.


As Canadians in the middle of the continent, schedules define our lives. It snows in late October and is bitterly cold December, January, February, and March. If I didn’t have a schedule that let me know spring will arrive in late March I am sure I would go crazy. In many ways, a schedule is the only thing holding our psyche together when we are shoveling 30 centimetres of snow with a windchill of -40. Like how can it possibly snow when it is that cold? We as a nation as obsessed with weather forecasts. If Meteorologists turned up tomorrow and said they were not forecasting anymore beyond today, I would go to some dark, dank corner of my mind in February.

I need a schedule. I need it to give me hope. 🙂


When you live in a country this vast, a map is a requirement. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is get caught in some small town with out a Tim Hortons in the middle of winter. So as a consequence, I have this inherent need to know where I am in relation to where I thought I would be. In all seriousness, getting caught in the middle of winter not making your destination is a matter of life and death. Getting caught out in the elements will get you killed. More than anything we respect the power of nature.

So I think this Canadian life has ingrained on me that I need a map of the projects I work on. I need it to guide me and in some very real way, I feel lost and vulnerable without it.


Canada is not a Soccer nation. Never will be. Oh sure we have some very talented players now coming up and we will continue to get better, but Soccer will never enthrall this nation like Hockey. Why? I’d hazard a guess is because part of the charm of Hockey is the combination of the skill, tenacity, and toughness. Hockey is the only sport that has a ‘diving’ penalty – where it is a penalty if you are trying to fake an infraction. Yes, I know that Soccer now has a ‘simulation’ penalty, but if you can’t even label the penalty as something shameful, how committed are you to changing the behaviour?

To be blunt, adopting No Estimates because estimates are hard to do and error prone, seems to be like falling down in the penalty area just to get a free kick. Yes, it might be easier and make projects go smoother for developers, but is it right?

No thanks. I’ll carry on, drink my Tim Hortons, fight through tackles and get better at estimating. I’d rather lose the right way than win on a penalty kick.

#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’

I first learned about Agile from Canadian Hockey

I’ve been trying to put this post together for a while and I finally got my four points completed. This post has been sitting around in an unfinished state and I figured I needed to complete it before the NHL returned to Winnipeg. 🙂

Go Jets Go!

The four Agile rules I learned from hockey

Play for the crest on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back – Simply put, the individual cannot have a personal agenda or an ego. Every member of the team must be willing to do whatever it takes to have the team succeed. This is seen again and again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You never see a good Canadian boy saying he doesn’t get the puck enough.

Mistakes cause you to lose games – Mistake or defects cause you to lose a game and also have bad projects. These things just cannot happen. Good teams do everything they can to eliminate these mistakes and defects. Good coaching can eliminate mistakes from a hockey game and Test Driven Development can eliminate defects from a Software Development Project.

Winning the game/satisfying the client is the only thing that matters – It doesn’t matter if you scored a hat trick, had 7 assists (sorry Darryl Sittler, but I’m a Habs fan), or delivered just what the contract stated. None of that matters at all. The only thing that matters is if you won the game and the client was delighted. Too often in both Hockey and Software Development we seem to be more focused on these small victories and sacrifice the end goal.

Shoot the darn puck/deliver the darn iteration – You can’t win the game unless you shoot the puck at the net. You can’t succeed in satisfying the client unless you actually deliver something to the client. Iterations and trying to score often is at the heart of success in both Hockey and Software Development.

Editor’s note: Sorry Don Cherry, I tried and failed to think of an analogy for fighting. 😦