Winning Every Project

What does it take to win every project? Vividly visualizing your team’s success.

by Brenda Peppers

I love sports. And I love to win. And it probably goes without saying that I am a very competitive person. So as a project and program manager, how do I translate that passion for sports and winning to daily work and winning at every project? What makes sports professionals great? Are there some best practices we can glean for our project teams?

Reflecting back on my youth a bit, and being a gymnast, my sports idols were Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton. Nadia was a Romanian gymnast who won three gold medals in the 1976 Olympics and was the first to be awarded a perfect score (10). Mary Lou Retton was the first American to win the all-around individual gold in Olympics in 1984 and she also scored not one, but two perfect scores during the competition.

Let’s consider other sporting venues and eras. Do any of these sports icons register as great in your book? … Jack Nicklaus? Steve Nash? Wayne Gretzky? Emmitt Smith?

The athletes named are considered “great athletes” in their respective fields. But they also all have something else in common (outside of being very competitive and loving to win). Do you know what it is? Each of these athletes either had a very vivid and clear definition of their end goal or success, or had daily practices that visualized their very immediate goal/game/match/routine—or both! They all declared their goals and visualized their success. It was their habit. It was part of what made them great. Take Jack Nicklaus, “The Golden Bear” regarded as the greatest professional golfer of all time who said “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head”. Likewise, every time Steve Nash went to the foul line, he shot several free throws in his mind before actually shooting one physically. The NBA’s all-time free throw percentage leader says it helped get his brain and body prepped for the upcoming motor skill. Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith had a vision for his career. In his Hall of Fame induction speech he remarked “At the age of 21, I already knew what I needed to do in order to make my mark. I wanted to become the all-time leading rusher. I knew Walter Payton was one of the best to have ever played the game, and I wanted to achieve that level of greatness.” And guess what… when you look up the top NFL rushing yard leaders, you will find Emmitt Smith is number one and just behind him is Walter Payton. Do you see a pattern forming?


Greatness doesn’t just happen. It is intentional. And, likewise, projects don’t miraculously succeed. Successful teams have a very vivid picture of the end state – just like our sports heroes. I think therein lies a best practice we can, and should, incorporate in order to win at every project. The next time you start a project, how do you give your team the greatest shot at success? How do you WIN? Let’s take a cue from our heroes and elite sporting athletes: it is always best to, as Stephen Covey would say, “start with the end in mind”.

Napoleon Hill once said, “Whatever the mind of the man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Greatness starts when you conceive it in your mind. The mind is very powerful. I think I can… I want to… I will! Think of how much more impact can be made when an entire TEAM conceives and believes in a goal together.

So, step one to winning every project is: DESCRIBE THE GOAL. VIVIDLY!

What does success look like? Ask yourself and your team “if we hit this, would we consider ourselves 100% successful? If the answer is no, then go back and work on the goal some more.

There are several basic parts to describing a goal vividly. Beyond the basics of formulating a SMART goal (Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goals should meet a few other key attributes. They are:

Make it significant

Incremental improvement is okay, but only if the incremental improvement is significant enough. Did the work create a lasting change that is recognizable and felt by your customers? A decent rule of thumb is that a project should, at a minimum, provide a 50% improvement over the current process or performance level.

Ensure it is relevant to the customer, key stakeholders & team

Making a significant, big change is great as long it aligns with the things that the customers, key stakeholders and team care deeply about. There are always many individuals that will be touched or affected by a project. Make sure to consider all the potential constituents to warrant the team is truly working on the right goal. Always think about and get input from these key groups when setting a project goal:


The customers, or users, of the process the team is working on should be the primary focus and starting point for defining and describing success. There will be many types and levels of customers. The team will need to identify and prioritize the customers for the project. Then “Voice of the Customer” will need to be obtained for each customer set. What do they really need? What do they value most? What change would bring about a change in their satisfaction? How much change is required to significantly change their satisfaction? Understanding the customer(s) and their needs, during goal setting for the project, is the single most important step to success. The project will ultimately not win unless your customer voice is driving your goals. And don’t be fooled… stakeholders will often wish to speak “for” the customer. But there is no substitute for the customer’s voice.


Yes stakeholders. These are perhaps the trickiest constituent. If you Google “stakeholder” you get the definition “a person with an interest or concern in something”. Stakeholders tend to have the most power to influence the project team, and their goals can sometimes be grounded in how they are internally measured – which may or may not connect with the ultimate customer experience. To compound this, there are likely multiple key stakeholders that will need to be identified and understood. How are they measured? What is success for them? What is their internal stake in this project and how can we align the goals to create a win for the customer while also offering value to the varied stakeholders? Some stakeholders may in fact argue that customer needs are invalid. So it is critical to understand and weave in stakeholder goals so that they will provide their support and ultimate championship for the team work. This will be a huge task but worth the time and effort to ultimately align the goal of the team to both the customer and stakeholder needs.

Last but not least, the team

The team needs and goals should also be understood and established at the beginning of the project. If the team is not 100% passionate or supportive of the goal for the project, it cannot truly succeed. It is extremely helpful to not only be very specific about the project success metrics, and the team’s alignment and passion to that success, but also personal team member success metrics. Having each team member state their personal learning or success goal(s) on a project helps to identify the value chain down to every member of the group that is responsible for achieving the overall success of the project.

The hard work is ultimately aligning the Customers, Stakeholders and Team to get to a win-win-win proposition. This is not easy and takes time. But it is the key to a project win. It is impossible to serve three masters… but finding the intersection, the sweet spot where all constituents can be served and delighted is the task at hand. The result should be one significant goal, that when met, will meaningfully improve customer experience and the aligned business performance attributes.

So the next time you have the opportunity to start a project or be a member of a project team, take some inspiration from our sports heroes. Vividly and clearly define what success looks like. Think big. Help the team articulate a very specific and significant goal that includes a well-formed view from all the key customers, stakeholders and teammates. Greatness isn’t random. Successful teams don’t just happen. Winning comes from having the inspiration and guts to name your success then doing everything you can, every day, to make that goal a reality – but it all starts with a goal. Go vividly describe your success and WIN! 

Brenda Peppers
Brenda Peppers
Director of Delivery
Contact Brenda

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