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Timing Is Everything…In Baseball And In Life

August 24, 2015

Imagine a sport that builds in a break 2/3 of the way through the event for the audience to stand up and stretch.

Imagine a sport where two of the most exciting scenarios are first that no one hits the ball, but even better, no one gets on base. In fact, the sport refers to that last scenario as PERFECT.

I don’t mind playing baseball, but I can’t stand watching it.

I get it. I realize that as an unabashed baseball fan, there are some people who would rather get a root canal with no Novocain than sit through nine innings of the greatest game ever invented. I used to be one of them. But, then a funny thing happened. I actually attended some professional games. I read up on the scoring. Not the number of runs recorded at the end of the game. But, baseball has an entire system of scoring every play.

Ever wonder why a strikeout is called a “K”? It’s because when scoring a baseball game, the letter S was already used. Originally it was (and is) used to record a single. (When a batter gets a hit that puts in at first base. It denotes a Save; the situation where a pitcher is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team, where is is not also the winning pitcher, he pitches at least 1/3 of an inning and comes into a game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning, or he enters teh game regardless of the score with the potential tying run either on base, at bat, or on desk, or he pitches for at least three inning.

Baseball scoring is just one of the many archaic rituals that endear the game to fans and make non-fans go “See? THAT’S why I hate it.”

As I developed first an appreciation and later a love for the sport, I also realized it is the pace that sets it apart from many other sports. There’s an ebb and a flow to a baseball game that doesn’t exist in any other sport. First off, there’s the fact that in baseball, unlike football, or hockey, or basketball, or just about any other sport, the defense controls the ball.

Then, there’s the fact that baseball is the only game where there is no clock. Literally, two teams could play forever if they stayed tied. The longest major league baseball game was in 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. It went 25 innings and lasted over eight hours. There was once a minor league game that went 32 innings. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings battled over two days with Pawtucket taking the win in the end.

These are the exceptions. Most professional baseball games go about three hours. But, more than that, the tempo of a baseball game over those three hours is beautiful. In a 9 inning game, each batter will come to bat at least 3 times. The starting pitcher will throw about 100 pitches.

Like a three act play, each third of a game has it’s own purpose. The first time through the batting order, the advantage typically is with the pitcher. He’s fresh and probably throwing his best pitches. Also, if he’s new, the batters have no idea what to expect from him. It’s 60’6″ from home plate to the pitchers mound. A 90 MPH fastball is going to take a fraction of a second to travel that distance. During that fraction, the batter has to decide to swing or not, and then get his hands and arms moving. He often guesses.

During the middle part of the game, the second act, if you will, the advantage is about even. The batters have seen the pitcher and probably seen him throw all his pitches (fastball, change-up, slider, curve, etc.) And they’ve started to get a read on his timing.

During the final third of the game, the advantage can be with the batters, the pitcher is going to be getting tired. Of course, that’s why you bring in relief pitchers. But, the idea is the same. There’s a rhythm to the game that the players and the fans get into.

I’m a project manager. Projects also have rhythms. It’s not as cut and dried as a three act play, but neither is baseball despite my oversimplification above. But, a project has a beginning a middle and an end. Understanding the schedule helps to keep the project on track and the stakeholders engaged. Last week we had a project meeting. The meeting took about 15 minutes. We are past the beginning phases where assignments were made. We are not yet to the phase where engineering work gets done. It’s a bit of dead time as we wait for equipment to arrive. We wait for circuits to be installed.

Just as people can get frustrated if they don’t understand the pace of a baseball game, if you have stakeholders who don’t understand the pace of a project, they may be pestering you for updates when there are none to be had.

It doesn’t mean the project is behind. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It’s just happening at a pace that they may not understand. Last year the big projects were building out new call centers. The call centers kind of took an 80/20 approach for much of the schedule. It seemed like we did 80% of the work in the last 20% of the schedule. As the project hit it’s final phase, we had deadlines occuring one right after another. The schedule was tight enough that a delay of a few hours by one contractor had a cascading effect on three or four other contractors who were lined up behind him. Eighteen hour days were not uncommon.

It’s easy to look at that kind of a schedule and ask, “Why? Why not put some of those projects into the slower “middle” portion of the schedule?” The answer is slightly complicated, but essentially boils down to timing. The timing is such that everything is going to happen right at the end. Like a baseball game, the middle section can get a little slow. That’s why they put the 7th inning stretch in that part.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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