Delivery Effectiveness & Baseball

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is the Practice Director for Slalom’s Delivery Effectiveness solutions. He is based in Chicago and enjoys bringing actionable, tactical solutions to his clients to help them improve their delivery.

Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast
Joe Garagiola, MLB Catcher and TV announcer

The effective delivery of projects is also an endless drama with an equally tumultuous turnover in players. This is my second blog comparing baseball and the world of delivery. In my first blog on this topic, I compared consultants to coaches. In this entry, I’m comparing the growth and development of project managers to that of baseball players. Specifically, I’m looking at the parallels between PM’s and young ball players in their development.

Little League
When children start out playing baseball, we coaches work to ensure that everyone gets equal playing time. We also are focused on teaching the game and therefore try to have all the kids play in each position in the field. When the players have very little experience, this strategy of equality sometimes backfires. Little Johnny really has no clue how to pitch, and putting him in the game will hurt the team’s chances of winning. However, to offset that down side, we must remember that in their early baseball career, skills are being developed, rules are being learned, and teamwork is being learned.  It’s not about the Win.

As players get older, coaches become a bit less altruistic in their assignment of defensive positions. Players begin to specialize. The games become more competitive. Betsy is clearly the best short stop, but that doesn’t mean the coach can place her at first base (nor would that help the team!). She doesn’t know that position as well. Even with the best intentions of the coaches, inequity creeps in. Coaches start to recognize how their players are developing and they begin to give the toughest assignments to those that are most capable. However, there is still room for the learner. Since some positions see less action, a less capable fielder can still be ‘hidden’ in a position that potentially may cause less damage.

At the Junior High and High School level, the importance of specialization for defensive positions is more evident than ever. There is less and less tolerance for a player that won’t commit to doing the work that is required to raise their skills. The game is still about having fun and learning, but the competitiveness is higher. At this level, it is important that everyone bring their ‘A’ game, try their best, and work at improving their capabilities. There is nowhere left to ‘hide’ a weaker player in the field. Every position sees action; every position is important; everyone contributes to the team’s success.

Project Manager League
At the entry levels of project management, everyone can play with a set of general PM skills. And for those with a few years of experience under their belt, managing small projects is easy without the need to have developed specialized skills. As PMs get more experienced, they start to hone their skills. They are able to run both small and medium sized initiatives and can do so with less oversight. However, with the growing complexity and increased business value of projects, it begins to get more difficult to ‘hide’ an inexperienced or less capable project manager. All projects should have an ‘A’ player.

At the large project and program level, the importance of a project manager as a professionally skilled resource becomes even more apparent. While subject matter expertise is always helpful for managing an initiative, the capabilities and talents provided by a professional PM cannot be supplanted by other team members. On the other hand, subject matter expertise can always be leveraged from others on the team.

So, as the cast of your project manager ranks turns over during the ‘endless run’ of providing value within your company, it is important to clearly establish:

  • Guiding principles for all PMs (regardless of level)–rules of the game tailored for the way YOU deliver.
  • Core capabilities and competencies that you want all of your PM’s to master. It’s not as simple as just “hit, catch and throw” anymore.  Capabilities should be tailored to role and level.
  • Career path–how to evolve and develop at the company in the PM role…or into other applicable roles. Like the farm system in MLB, where players stay with one club, grow from the feeder teams to the ‘big show’…and even move to a non-player role in the front or back office. PM’s should grow from the ‘minors’ (small projects), the ‘majors’ (large projects and programs), and even evolve into non-delivery specific roles (business relationship managers).

Resource optimization is not easy. It takes time and effort and a plan. And that long term plan for the development of your resources is critical. Don’t just treat PMs as disposable resources. Plan what you want from your PMs. Plan how they can grow and develop. In the immortal words of NY Yankees manager Yogi Berra, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

2 Responses to Delivery Effectiveness & Baseball

  1. Cathleen Holmes says:

    Great blog and very true.. Yogi quote reminds me of Covey quote “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”. Stephen R. Covey

  2. Tosha Perkins says:

    Well said Carl! Thanks for sharing!

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