Trading-Up

Leading a team? Consider the plight of the MLB general manager—improve your roster by the trade deadline or potentially lose your project.

It’s the middle of summer and I’ve been watching major league baseball teams negotiate their rosters. Many are trading-up and making themselves more competitive in specific areas. Others are cutting their losses. One team is staffing to win now; the other team is building for next year.

Baseball season isn’t exactly like a software development project, and while the skills of a pitcher in the starting rotation are different than your top UX designer, there are a few similarities worth elevating in our day-to-day tasks. Product management leaders need to think about the overall team’s skills. Who do you want on your team?

In both baseball and product management:

  • Results and outcomes matter.
  • A pattern of winning is established with every game, just as a successful project is established each sprint.
  • Teams comprising highly skilled individuals must work together.
  • Successful team leaders can only watch; they can’t get on the field of play.

The challenge with any team leader or manager, for baseball or business, is selecting the right skills and the right mix of talent at the right time for the right project. Take, for example, a sense of urgency.

In baseball as in most professional sports, roster changes have be made by an imposed date; the “trade deadline.” In business, the consequences of missing dates and deadlines for staffing purposes are rarely as harsh. If there was this level of urgency, the impact of a looming deadline to select, trade or upgrade a team by a certain date would motivate a product team leader to fill key spots quickly and with the best talent. If there are missing skills, can you add them quickly without major disruption? Do we know the real cost of not having the right dedicated resources for a given project?

What if we took a more decisive and competitive attitude towards our team roster?

Admittedly, we don’t have the flexibility or the control of a baseball GM to move talent around at will, but making adjustments with a sense of urgency and making definitive decisions about team players provide an advantage of speed. We often lose this sense of urgency when we build our project teams, but the cost determined in product delays, market acceptance and competitive advantage should be measured, and more importantly, used as lessons.

A balanced team is also imperative. Many times in business if we don’t get the team in place by a due date, we just push the schedule back. And in the worst cases, we don’t adjust our schedules at all. At times, we know we have the wrong skills in place, but again, we may not be able to take action in time.

Opportunities to improve team skills are an on-going process. Regularly ask (and answer) three key questions. What are the ideal skills for your team at this time? How nimble are they? As the team leader, where is most of your time spent (coaching, guiding, mentoring or doing)?

Don’t wait until next season to start building your All-Star Team. Start now and keep building.