Constraints and complexities plague baseball team and project managers alike.
Billy Beane, General Manager of Oakland Athletics baseball team (played by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball) had a serious problem. He had games to win but no money to attract top players. So what did he do? He found a way to utilize second tier players in a delicate balance that optimized for their performance. The balance was so effective that his team went on to achieve a record of consecutive wins, and his method revolutionized the assessment of players and sport teams forever.
Management consultants who need to manage client projects know exactly how this feels. They know that they need to put the client on a winning path, so they develop creative solutions and introduce effective processes and systems to enhance business performance. This introduces complexities. Balancing the iron triangle of scope, cost, and time is the project manager’s bread and butter, but in more complex projects, quality and risk are also added to the mix. Project managers may be responsible for a team, and another layer of complexity arises including elements such as motivation, delegation, and team building. If project managers happen to be on the PMO side assessing portfolios, they need to also balance strategy, cost and resource constraints, urgency of the project outcome, and assignments of the appropriate manpower based on the type of technology and level of complexity. Project managers might even touch fringes of the organization’s strategy development and balance long and short term planning. And, among the most difficult complexities often implied but necessary to make explicit here, is knowing when and why to bend the rules sometimes.
Similar to Billy Beane, consultants must do all of this under constraints. These constraints are not just financial, but a unique set defined by the specific business and organizational environments and the individuals involved. At a high level, the common denominators (beyond the politics) are complexities, multi-dependencies, and limited time and resources. In these engagements, a delicate, dynamic balance is the name of the game. Like trying to squeeze an inflated balloon with your fingers – if you press too much on one end, a bulge pops up on the other.
Billy would be proud of management consultants. Just like with him and his team, every engagement improves the experience. Every iteration points to a refined set of management principles. Every swing of the bat helps ease the pressure and simplify the process.