What is Your Project Management “Bullpen”?

“Every project manager in your PMO must become expert level in each process group and knowledge area to be successful.”

That’s interesting, I thought. I replied back on the professional message board that though I agree every PM needs to understand and show competence in each process group, I don’t agree with the concept of being “expert level.” Anyone who’s seen that big, beautiful table in the PMBOK highlighting the process groups and knowledge areas knows the complexity of the profession (table 1-4 on page 25 of the PMBOK 6th edition).

Instead of wanting every project manager on your PMO staff to be “expert level”, what if instead you looked at project managers like baseball coaches look at a pitching bullpen?

Let me explain. In baseball, you have your starters and your closers. Starters get the game kicked off and have the ability to complete at least half of the innings. Sometimes they get shelled and pulled out of the game early. Others have the ability to go most of the game, if not all the way (though, these are rare).

When starters leave the game, closers are brought in. They come in for maybe one inning, or even just to face one to two batters . They’re in and out quickly, but are effective during their short time in the game.

In your PMO, you probably have something very similar with the project management staff. You’ll have starters that can kick a project off and do exceptional planning, but don’t like the rigors or dramatics of execution. Others will love execution and implementation, but don’t like the “fuzzy front end” of trying to work with stakeholders on what done looks like. Each project manager will have areas of strength that can be capitalized on.

I’ll use myself as an example. I enjoy the initiation stage of gathering stakeholders and working with them to identify what “done” looks like (or a general idea of done). I can create high-level plans to obtain agreement and get things kicked off. Execution and implementation are challenges I enjoy and requires me to wear many hats with a variety of people I interact and work with.

But, if you need me to calculate different cost values, you’ll see my eyes gloss over pretty quick. Can I do these? Yes. Do I enjoy doing them? I could take’m or leave’m. Are others better than me at these? Hell Yeah!!

In one PMO I was part of, we had a “Financial Project Coordinator” who focused only on cost control measures. Since we were dealing with government entities, we were required to report a number of financials to them. She loved numbers and was also a good project manager. She partnered with us to ensure our financials were always tip-top, something I could not do to the level that was required.

We also had a project manager with a global IT group who was great at kicking projects off and leading them to near complete. But, he didn’t like the craziness of implementation (not to mention scared of flying). That was handed off to someone who did. They had thorough hand-off procedures to ensure the transition from one PM to the other was smooth and didn’t cause disruption.

PMO leaders should know the strengths of the PM’s on their teams. Who is a great starter? Is anyone skilled at financials when those need to be reported at a detailed level? Who is your closer that can take a project and get it implemented? Are there processes in place for hand-offs from one person to the next? Know your bullpen!

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