Baseball is a sport with something for everyone. Whether you are a statistician inspired by Moneyball, a foodie craving the hot dogs and popcorn, or a kid enjoying the pure sound of the ball hitting the bat’s sweet spot, it is hard to not appreciate some aspect of the game.
While I haven’t played baseball in more than three decades and don’t watch the sport on TV, attending a couple of our local intercounty team’s games recently has rekindled my interest in the game.
But what lessons could a project manager derive from the game?
While most sports teams have some degree of diversity, it is extremely visible on baseball teams.
Whether it is race, age, body size, left handed or right handed, and even gender , successful teams are a heterogeneous mix where each team member’s strengths and weaknesses are understood and incorporated into their way of playing. A player might not be a fast runner so while they might not have a field position, their power might make them a great designated hitter.
While we might not always have the final say in who is on our teams, we can strive to have as diverse a team as possible, and benefit from that diversity by creating a safe, inclusive environment.
Take advantage of bench strength
While it might not appear to have the same level of explosive action as hockey or basketball, playing baseball can be a long, tiring endeavor. Even in amateur ball, it is rare for a pitcher to be able to play all nine innings without some loss of accuracy or risking an injury.
While we might try to have some backup for each of our core contributors on our project teams, how often do we call on those backup players to step in for the primaries? Doing so not only gives our first line a chance to do something else, it will help the backup line be that much more capable.
One of the most interesting aspects of baseball is the act of stealing bases. For both the player on base and the pitcher, vigilance is crucial. The stealer has to pick up on cues indicating that the pitcher might be ready to spin and throw to the base player whereas the pitcher has to rely on their “Spidey-sense” tingling to inform them that a base is about to be stolen. Neither player can afford to get tunnel vision.
The same holds true for our project teams. Effective risk management requires us to regularly monitor for triggers which might be leading indicators of a risk being realized. Ignoring these clues means that we may be caught off guard.
Communication is critical
A batter hits the ball far out into the field midway between the center and right fielder. While both outfielders simultaneously start to run towards the ball, they will call out to one another to ensure that only one of the two will make the final catch. Without that coordination effort, either the ball will be dropped if neither goes for it or there will be a player collision.
While it might feel redundant, explicit, effective communication of “who’s on first” can help to avoid a lot of waste on our projects.
Tommy Lasorda was speaking about baseball players with his quote, but is equally applicable to project managers: “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)