The AE Industry and the NFL—Separated at Birth?
As the final seconds of Super Bowl LVIII disappeared into the Nevada desert yesterday and fans began to analyze every play and every commercial, it occurred to me how much the NFL has changed since the first Super Bowl. In fact, the first Super Bowl wasn’t even called the “Super Bowl”—it was referred to as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” until the “Super Bowl” moniker was adopted in 1969’s Super Bowl III.
Since then, the AE industry has been engaged in its own game of evolution. Much as NFL teams constantly adjust their tactics and philosophies in an attempt to achieve success, AE firms have embarked on a transformative journey of their own. From talent management to internal operations, growth strategies, and technological integration, some of the most successful firms in our industry mirror the adaptive strategies observed in professional football, understanding that embracing change is paramount to building and maintaining a competitive edge over the long run. Here’s what I mean:
Succession and collaborative leadership
Despite Bill Belichick’s unparalleled success as the head coach of the New England Patriots for nearly a quarter-century, there came a point where the organization needed to plan for the future. The team owner, Robert Kraft, recognized the importance of succession planning and a more collaborative and inclusive approach to leadership, and as a result parted ways with Belichick and hired the new head coach from within the organization. Other NFL teams around the league are also ushering in new leadership—one-quarter of them, in fact. And these coaches are not just retreads—five of the eight have no previous head coaching experience at the NFL level. Similarly, more and more AE firms are prioritizing the grooming of future leaders and promoting a culture of collaboration throughout their companies. Whether it’s implementing mentorship programs, providing opportunities for cross-functional learning and development, or actively involving emerging talent in leadership initiatives to ensure a seamless transition and a strong leadership pipeline, a new generation of leadership is emerging, valuing responsible autonomy over command and control.
AE firms and the NFL are showing a similar emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and talent development. Much like NFL teams recognizing the value of diverse perspectives on and off the field, AE firms are prioritizing diversity and inclusion initiatives. They’re actively recruiting talent from underrepresented groups, fostering inclusive work cultures, and establishing mentorship programs to support career advancement for all employees.
Much like NFL teams adapting playbooks and game plans on the fly when opposing teams, AE firms are increasingly embracing agile project management methodologies. Agile project management involves the adoption of flexible and iterative approaches to project execution, akin to the principles of agile methodology in software development. This approach emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and frequent communication among project teams, clients, and stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle, leading to improved project outcomes such as enhanced efficiency, increased client satisfaction, higher-quality deliverables, and reduced risks of schedule or budget overruns.
Digitization and automation
The NFL incorporates cutting-edge player tracking systems, such as Zebra Technologies’ RFID tags, to gather real-time data on player movements, speed, and positioning during games. This technology provides coaches with valuable insights into player performance and enables them to make data-driven decisions to optimize game strategies. They also use virtual reality (VR) training systems to simulate game scenarios and enhance player preparation. Similarly, AE firms are integrating digitization and automation into their internal processes with technologies such as BIM, VR simulations, and project management software that streamline workflows, enhance communication, and minimize errors throughout the project lifecycle.
The NFL is still in the early stages of adopting AI, and its widespread implementation across all teams and aspects of the game is still evolving. Sound familiar? Similar to how NFL teams use advanced analytics to predict player performance, AE firms are using generative design powered by AI algorithms. Generative design produces numerous design alternatives based on specified parameters and performance criteria, enabling firms to explore a wide range of design possibilities and identify optimal solutions that meet project requirements while maximizing efficiency and performance. And much like NFL teams that use predictive analytics to anticipate opponents’ strategies and adapt their game plans, AE firms are leveraging predictive analytics for project forecasting. By analyzing historical project data, market trends, and client preferences, firms can forecast project timelines, budgets, and resource requirements more accurately. This proactive approach allows firms to mitigate risks, optimize resource allocation, and deliver projects on time and within budget.
Growth and diversification
Similar to NFL teams playing international games to expand the league’s fan base, AE firms continue to pursue geographic expansion by establishing offices in new regions. By setting up offices in strategic locations, firms can tap into new markets, access larger talent pools, and strengthen their national and global presence. This expansion enables firms to diversify their revenue streams and offer localized expertise to clients in more regions.
Just as NFL teams now engage in joint training camps to enhance performance, AE firms form strategic alliances with other firms or organizations. And while forming strategic alliances is nothing new, the practice has evolved over the last decade toward more strategic and collaborative partnerships aimed at achieving mutual growth and innovation. Today’s alliances tend to focus on strategic alignment of goals, integrated services across disciplines, and global reach, and include a strong emphasis on innovation and technology.
So, what about it? Is your firm Super Bowl material? If so, how will you keep up with the trends and get back to the big game next year? If not, what do you need to do to become a perennial contender?
Morrissey Goodale helps AE firms of all shapes and sizes achieve sustainable, profitable growth. For more information, call Mark Goodale at 508.254.3914 or email [email protected]