It is the time of year when, all over the English countryside, you can start to hear the gentle thwack of leather on willow in the parks, beside the pubs and on the village greens. With the recent success of the England Cricket Team and the advent of the domestic cricket season my thoughts turn to some of the similarities it shares with another great love of mine (or profession, at least), project management.
The obvious first thing is that nobody understands either of them! Cricket is famed for its complex nature and very few people understand the true scope and value of what a project manager does. But here’s a light-hearted look at how they compare in other ways:
There are clear boundaries – Round the edge of the field the difference between 1&2 runs and 4 or 6 runs is a clearly defined boundary. Similarly your projects should have a crystal clear scope so there is no dispute over what has or hasn’t been delivered.
You have limited resources – The fielding team only has 11 men to deploy around the field. The Captain must balance these resources to achieve the best results. He must make sure his best people are in the most critical positions, such as the slips, but needs also account for the risk of a stray ball to long-on. Similarly a PM needs to allocate their best resources to the most critical tasks but be ready to divert them to troublesome areas in the project. It’s also important to balance the portfolio. The captain and selectors must balance the team in the right way to achieve their goals. When selecting a team this involves finding the right ratio of bowlers to batsmen or slow and steady run accumulators to aggressive and free-scoring impact players. This is similar to the role of the project portfolio manager trying to pick the right mix of projects in the portfolio to spread risk and maximise return on investment.
You must play to your strengths – The captain may set one type of field if they are using a fast bowler and a different type of field if they are using a spin bowler. Bowlers can seldom bat well and vice versa. Similarly, a PM must organise the project around the strengths of his team. The PM may need some good all-rounders in the team to cope with all situations.
There are formulae and methods – In the Earned Value Method (EVM) the To-Complete Performance Index (TCPI) bears a striking resemblance to the run-rate calculations from the Duckworth-Lewis Method (D/L) used in one day cricket. (Too technical, anyone……?)
There are phases and milestones – The most successful cricket teams understand that a test match goes through many different phases and these are punctuated by milestones such as wickets, declarations, lunch or taking the new ball which, when used properly, can turn the tide of the match. Similarly the PM must divide their project into clear phases to maintain control and use milestones wisely to motivate the focus their team.
You have to consider your environment – Just as a cricket captain must take into account the weather, the humidity, the texture and condition of the pitch, the nature of the crowd and the direction of the wind, the PM must analyse their project environment, including the culture of the organisation, the attitude to authority, working times and to project management maturity in general.
Risk is everywhere, and must be managed – Right from outcome of the coin toss, to the clumsy sweep from your cavalier batsman through to an uncertain hope that the ball will swing in the attack, the cricketer is constantly calculating risk exposure and coming up with strategies and workarounds to deal with it. Similarly, the project manager must plan for risk and constantly anticipate, review and react to it throughout the whole project life cycle.
There’s Padding – Quite obviously in cricket, but it’s less welcome in project management. Rather than using padding as a substitute for risk management by building arbitrary buffers around key milestones, contingency reserves should be estimated and traced back to specific risks and assumptions made and calculated by the project management team. In cricket it’s there to make sure that an LBW call doesn’t result in a trip to casualty.
It often comes down to the wire – This is a trait most often seen in limited overs games where similar run rates dictate that an entire day’s play can be decided by the final ball, as seen in last season’s Twenty20 cup final. The trick, like a good PM when faced with an immovable deadline, is to stick to the game plan and keep up the motivation and focus of the team, perhaps trading off some risk to meet the key constraints facing it. A surge in effort to a committed goal will often win the day.
In the end it’s all about people – As 9 demonstrates, you may have a well-defined project process or a well-coached batting technique but it’s the people in your team that make it happen on the day in the face of all obstacles. When the project reaches a critical stage will your people want to play for you? Do they ‘want it enough?’ Do they know what’s expected of them and are they motivated to go beyond it? Understanding how to get the most from your people and having them committed to a common goal is the key ingredient to success; on or off the pitch.
This post was originally published on the blog for the PM-Partners website, 26th May 2011