Does experience equal competency?

Experience is not the only thing that counts when it comes to competency. One of the Moneyball skills in project management is competency. The early 2000’s Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball (MLB) used analytics to perfection. They scouted for players who had very little name value yet a huge upside on the diamond. Rather than focus on home runs and pitcher win-loss records, they emphasized on-base percentage, walks, and slugging percentage.

Because they were a team with a comparatively small market and support base, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a roster was not an option. They needed an advantage over the big market teams. The New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers can whiff on a big free agent signing because they had the money to do so. Oakland could not afford to miss on anybody.

So, Oakland decided to look at metrics that debunked the traditional measures of success and trailblazed the use of sabermetrics. A blind monkey can sign a talent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado for huge dollars. But the skill and demonstration of competency by the team came from signing a journeyman and turning him into a starter.

Scott Hatteberg is the official Moneyball figurehead. He signed a one year, $950,000 contract with Oakland Athletics, and they converted him from a catcher to a first baseman. His statistics never wowed anybody, but the Athletics saw one that stood out to them, the on-base percentage. This fitted with the team’s view – Billy Beane, the Athletics General Manager, says on-base percentage is one of the most affordable skills on the market – and Hatteberg became an everyday player on a team that went to the playoffs two straight seasons. He went from a throwaway talent to a starter on a budget.

What does this story have to do with project management?

One of the Moneyball skills in project management is competency. How often have you seen someone whose credentials are longer than their actual name? You can bring them on your team or work with them and quickly realize those credentials are masking the actual level of competency.

Those credentials are like racking up home runs in a meaningless blowout or compiling wins on a team that averages eight runs a game. Those bloated statistics look great on paper but, in reality, mask some mediocre performances.

Competency determines how valuable a person’s experience is. Some projects are winners from the start. Everything falls into place, and you cannot go wrong. Other projects are doomed from the beginning but teach those involved lesson after lesson while kicking your butt. Which project manager would you prefer? The one where things came easy or the one who got dragged through the mud but came out alive, having learned lots and is able to adapt?

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