Having recently returned to Northland after spending almost a year in the United Kingdom working, travelling and playing rugby, I hobbled through the doors of Northland Inc, back into my old role as a business analyst, on a pair of crutches.
Talk about making an entrance!
It was just my luck that, barely a week after my homecoming and only a few days before returning to work, I would break my ankle in the opening game of the senior women's rugby season.
If nothing else, the black, glittery cast I sported for five weeks proved a definite ice-breaker with clients, and even now the moonboot that I have become so accustomed to still invites rugby-related conversations.
One conversation that really stuck with me was when a client mentioned that both businesses and business projects can benefit and learn a number of lessons from rugby.
I found this particularly thought-provoking. After all, I work with a range of public and private sector stakeholders across Northland on a daily basis, supporting them to strengthen their business cases, to attract investment and to implement projects that will achieve economic development outcomes for the region.
Although these projects may sit across a range of sectors and differ quite substantially in size and geographic location, the one thing they have in common is their dependency on people, of planning and risk-management to stand a chance of being successful – much, indeed, like a game of rugby.
A successful execution of a project depends on the project team having the right mix of skills and expertise across all levels, as well as the creation of an environment where individuals are able to openly communicate and trust in each other.
This is something rugby has mastered to a fine degree – with every set-piece or game plan relying on a number of players with different roles and skill-sets working collectively to achieve a specific outcome.
Take the scrum, for example: The props use force to ensure their hooker is in a strong position to secure the ball; the locks act as the engine room, providing fire power to the props; and the loosies help hold the scrum together, ready to quickly break off to capitalise on opportunities or minimise threats.
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Also, much like the half-back who is responsible for putting the ball into the scrum and acting as a conduit between the forwards and backs, a business project also requires a strong leader who knows how to communicate effectively and direct all of the project team.
They need to be able to rally the troops in a range of situations and make tough decisions under pressure to ensure that the team consistently performs.
Rugby, much like project implementation, can often be a battle of attrition, and having a plan in place allows the teams to capitalise when they have ball in hand or resources available.
All projects regardless of size should have a plan with enough detail so that everyone involved understands what the project is trying to achieve, how they can contribute to the outcome being sought and the level of resources they have available to them to aid with this.
The project plan needs to be tailored to the strengths of those involved, and rugby is no different. It can be quite challenging to a team that tries to play a game plan that does not suit it.
This might explain why England play a game that is often over-dependent on their set-piece. They often struggle with ball in hand, in direct contrast to, say, the All Blacks or Ireland which have strong interplay between forwards and backs.
However, not only does a rugby team require a game plan, it must also know how to respond to a range of unexpected situations and be able to change tack accordingly. It must be proactive in exploiting opportunities and managing risks as the game can change in a blink of the eye – a missed tackle or an unfavourable bounce of the ball can instantly put a team on the back foot.
If the team is aware of what the risks are, and the possible consequences of those risks, then they can implement solutions with greater ease while successfully reducing the severity of the risk.
Business projects require the same sort of proactive management because they rarely run completely to plan and, much like rugby, there is limited opportunity to stop the clock between the referee's first and last whistle.
Perhaps the most important thing is that projects manage to endure until the final whistle and successfully complete the game.
Even though I have spent the entire rugby season sidelined, I am still able to play the project game so, if there are any economic development projects out there looking for help, I am more than ready to join your team.
• Codie McIntyre is business analyst in the Investment and Infrastructure team at Northland Inc.