Bring in a Relief Pitcher for your Project

Every now and then the game pulls me back in and teaches me something I did not know. Unbeknownst to me, the latest post-season has completely changed my outlook on project management. It may have been moving back to the East Coast and being so close to so many teams. It maybe have been a marathon binge of Ken Burns’ famous documentary that was recently updated. Or it may have been the record breaking year of my favorite team, who even when not playing the New York Yankees, find a way to taunt them. Regardless, I got sucked back into baseball this year.

I started by trying to unplug from days that started out productive, but inevitably got bogged down by distraction and disappointment. I would take to watching “Baseball” by Ken Burns at night or on the weekends. When that was done, I would take up listening, not watching but actually listening via internet radio and my AirPods, to the post-season play. And I noticed a trend. I don’t know how long this has been going on, but at some point, the pitchers stopped pitching more than 5 innings.

Baseball, some of you know, is a 3–4 hour game that last 9 innings on average. Traditionally, your pitcher starts the game strong, pitches through 7 innings and then a relief pitcher with a fresh arm will come in and close the game out. The starting pitcher would rest for 3–4 days then play again. The starter is your rockstar, your workhorse. But, for whatever reason, these pitchers were only pitching 3–5 innings at the most. Then a middle relief pitcher, or two. THEN, finally a closer would come in and finish off the last inning.

As I was processing these games, while processing my day, I began to see my frustration with my own team. I had different people each on their own different projects. While they were all good in their own right, none of them were gaining much traction start to finish. So I leaned into this and tested it out on one particular project. I had been having trouble getting my “starter” to close out a design project. Meanwhile, another designer, on another project was having trouble getting started. So I took the project from one graphic/creative designer and moved it to another. The other designer took it, fine tuned it. Made corrections and we went to print with a great product the whole team can get behind. One designer needed to be middle relief for the other. This could have gotten messy, and territorial very quickly, had those designers put their egos ahead of the project and ultimately the goals of the organization.

Here is the point: stop relying on individuals on your team to carry you the whole way through. Be ok with taking certain aspects of projects and giving them to self-starters and then take it away when they are fading. Just have the honest conversation. Put in your relief pitcher (or 3!) and get the job finished. The goal is to win as a team.