I spent many hours this past summer watching my son play lacrosse and couldn’t help thinking about how the team sport of lacrosse is similar to the team sport of design and construction. I’m sure this is analogous to the other team sports that move an object up and down a rectangular field, court, or rink, but this is how I see its comparison with lacrosse.
Midfielders (middies) are responsible for moving the ball up the field between the two goals. They are also responsible for recovering from setbacks and getting an unsettled game back into control. These players are similar to the skilled contractors and tradespeople who build, install, connect, and essentially make most of the noticeable progress in a construction project.
Defenders are often their team’s largest and most intimidating players, responsible for preventing the other team from getting the ball to and/or into the goal. To be successful, they need to combine brute force with a keen perception of where and how things might go wrong. Then they need the finesse to steal the ball from the opponents and turn the tide for their own team. This is a critical part of what project managers do in construction projects. Project managers need to constantly be vigilant to what’s happening on a project and use their power and intelligence to prevent major failures in installation, schedule, and budget control.
Attack lacrosse players focus on the offense around the opponent’s goal. They are the “closers” when it comes to the final details of scoring goals. Attackmen are not the only players who shoot and score, but it is the attack’s plans and execution — involving both attack and middies — that result in goals. The game cannot be won without goals, and usually lots of them. The attack role is similar to MEP coordinators, controls contractors, TAB contractors, and commissioning professionals.
As noted above, project managers and defenders are critical to a project’s (team’s) success because they guard against major set-backs and outright failures. No lacrosse team can win a game if the other team can score goals without resistance. Similarly, no con-struction project will succeed if mistakes are always being made and needing to be corrected.
At the other end of the field, middies are regularly tempted to run down the field with the ball and shoot it at the goal (run and gun), bypassing the attack altogether. At first blush, this seems easier and faster and promises more glory for the middies than engaging the attack in the play. In construction, this is analogous to a construction team that believes all they need to do is install equipment; connect pipes, ducts, and electricity; and turn it on.
In lacrosse, the run-and-gun approach works pretty well for little boys’ teams who haven’t played long enough to pass and catch the ball consistently well with those tricky sticks and nets. However, as the years pass, those teams that don’t force themselves to pass and catch with confidence will not have a chance against the opponents’ bigger, stronger, and faster defenders. Those defenders will be able to read the middies’ minds and get between them and the goal to stop the score.
In mature and highly skilled lacrosse, the attack is critical to scoring goals and winning games. This is the same for anything but the simplest of construction projects as well. A project will not be successful without the full engagement of the skilled closers involved in systems integration, balancing and controls, and third-party commissioning verification.