What the winningest NFL coach (Don Shula) can teach us about IT projects

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I read Don Shula: A Biography of the Winningest Coach in NFL History, Don Shula coached in the NFL from 1958 to 1995 and won more games than any other NFL coach and the super bowl twice.

Shula was successful over a long period, he evolved and adapted to different environments, people and situations.


Environments, customers, people and technology changes. The actions that brought you success in the past might not bring success in the future.

Don Shula success in his earlier career came with a great quarterback at the Colts. He then moved to the Miami Dolphins and had 3 great running backs. Later the NFL changed the rules to encourage more attacking play and make it easier for quarterbacks. Shula adapted and drafted Dan Marino, a hall of fame quarterback. Shula changed his strategy to get the best of his team and play to it’s strengths.

I think what coaching is all about, is taking players and analyzing there ability, put them in a position where they can excel within the framework of the team winning. And I hope that I’ve done that in my 33 years as a head coach. Don Shula

Dynamics 365 has changed, moving from On-Premise to Online, C# or JavaScript code to no code functionality with the Power Platform.

Flows can deliver functionality which previous could only be done with a plugin, the difference is creating and maintaining plugins is more costly. This has changed the solutions created. No code/Low code changes the skills needed in delivery team and empowers consultants to deliver more.

I have seen examples of companies not adapting, Dynamics professionals are still creating solutions using workflows and plugins instead of creating Power Automate/Flows. You would create large Dynamics solutions but now we have to consider several smaller focused PowerApps can be used.

Each project is different, a successful approach on one project could fail with a different customer and team on another. The ability for critical thinking and adapting to situations is key.

Work hard

The sign outside Shula’s office reads — “I’m just a guy who rolls up his sleeves and goes to work”

I don’t know any other way to lead but by example. Don Shula

Shula made sure his team worked hard and prepared well. You won’t win if you are outworked by the opposition and you won’t succeed without being as well prepared as you can.

“Leave as little to chance as possible. Preparation is the key to success” Paul Brown

Game of errors

“Football is a game of errors. The team that makes the fewest errors in a game usually wins” Don Shula

The fewer errors, mistakes and wrong moves made, the smoother and quicker the project goes. Speed up a project with quality not speed. The common method of speeding up is by adding more people but this can slow the project down — Why adding more people to a project doesn’t make it go faster

Complexity slows down projects, you can combat this by reducing complexity and sticking to out of the box. To deliver a project on time, stick to out of the box

Why IT projects estimates are wrong

Team game

NFL games and IT projects are a team game, you need good people and leadership to be successful. There is pressure and expectation, you can’t let these affect performance or decisions, don’t let the highs be to high or the lows be to low.

Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal. Don Shula


Don Shula worked hard, adapted to the strengths the people of his team and was more prepared than the opposition.

The NFL and IT Projects are a game of errors, the few errors you make the smoother and fewer late deliveries. The more you can avoid problems from your execution of work the more trust you gain with the customer. You can control the quality of your work and your execution, do this and reduce the mistakes.

The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals — Professionals win points by doing good shots, amateurs lose points by making mistakes. Set the standards, minimise mistakes and create quality, in the long run it’s the fastest way to deliver a project.

ps. That is a picture of my cat Rex as a general, I am a fan of animals dressed as general :-)

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Have been working with Dynamics 365 since version 4 and enjoy reading and delivering enterprise projects

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