Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

What the Americas Cup teaches us about management


It has taken a few days for the Kiwis to recover from Team NZ‘s slow strangling at the hands of Oracle Team USA in the Americas Cup. In the space of 8 days, they went from 8-1 up to losing 9-8 with skipper Dean Barker visibly distressed. This collapse has been on par with what the national rugby team the All Blacks and the South African cricketers have managed throughout their history. Now that the cup is over, I was thinking if there were any parallels to take away from a management point of view. It appears there may be a few.

What the Americas Cup teaches us about management

Keep improving or perish

In the beginning of the regatta, Team NZ seemed to be sweeping all before them. They won the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series by a country mile. It was obvious that Oracle started the Americas cup proper undercooked. Oracle struggled to match Team NZ, but kept improving throughout. They were even ruthless enough to drop John Kostecki and bring in Tom Slingsby in the afterguard. It is no different in business. Getting ahead is sometimes the easy part. Staying there is often more difficult.

Resource matters

As I read today about the automatic ‘Herbie’ foiling system Oracle perfected towards the end of the regatta, it appears access to funds does help. While Team NZ itself was funded to the tune of $36 million by the New Zealand government, sponsored by Emirates and plenty of other corporate interests, Managing Director Grant Dalton spent significant time in securing some of these. Interestingly, he was also part time member of the sailing crew. On the contrary, having a single benefactor being able to drop a millions when needed does appear to have helped here.

Survive to fight another day

What made the defeat more hard to take for Barker and his crew is the fact they were only minutes away from winning the cup. Leading 8-3 and within sights of victory, opposition skipper James Spithill decided to take an unexpected route in the third leg of the race. While Team NZ seemed on course for victory, they followed conservative match racing mantra of covering the opposition, so they could not pass them. While Oracle could not pass, it resulted in Team NZ not being able to complete the racing within the time limit. While Spithill could not win that race, he made sure he got the next best outcome. He managed to put enough pressure on Team NZ to force them into mistakes on other occasions as well.

Keep cards close to the chest

The history of the Americas Cup is littered with litigation at every turn. Even Oracle itself had won the cup in court. They promptly changed the deed of gift to prevent the challengers going to court. Despite that, when Oracle was penalised 2 races for skulduggery in the AC45 racing series, everyone expected them to head to court. By not making public their position, they made a very wise decision. Having already won the cup they have no reason to go there. To top it off, they can now take the moral high ground that they would never have gone to the courts in the first place.

For me at least, it seems following some of the cup had some positive after all.

Image credit: TVNZ

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