I recently read an article in ESPN the Magazine (04/02/2012) about Washington Nationals Pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, among others who have had Tommy John surgery. The surgery was required due to a tear in the elbow. The author, Lindsay Berra, investigated what causes so many injuries and how it has impacted the game of baseball in terms of games lost by injured pitchers as well as the monetary loss of pitchers sitting on the shelf unable to play the game.
Most of us can think of at least one other pitcher, besides Tommy John, who has had the surgery: Kerry Wood, A.J. Burnett, C.J. Wilson, and Christ Carpenter are some recent pitchers mentioned in the article. It has become so common, and the surgery so successful, that when the injury occurs teams count on those pitchers to return to full strength in about 18 months’ time. They do not typically worry about how much money they are wasting, and better yet, how they could work to prevent these injuries.
Why do they typically occur? The two common factors mentioned by Berra are overuse of a pitchers arm, and poor form in their pitching stride. “To throw a baseball properly, a pitcher must get into the right position at the right time with the right succession of movements, like dominoes falling.” Greg Maddux is a provided example of someone who utilized technology to prolong their career. Nolan Ryan even mentions using anything available to improve his motions to prolong his career. Both pitchers had long, largly injury free, hall of fame worthy careers that lasted into their 40’s.
Lindsay Berra goes on to discuss how there are pitching coaches still stuck in their outdated thoughts of how they coach a pitcher. In the major leagues the thought is, if it isn’t broken and the pitcher is winning games, don’t fix it. Berra mentions that some of these coaches seem to refuse to accept technology as a tool for improving a pitchers form.
Technology exists that can record a pitchers motions and a trained specialist can review that motion and provide recommended solutions for the pitcher to correct those unnatural motions. There are better ways and coaches still refuse to adapt to use them, even though they can save them time and money on the use of a pitcher.
What does this have to do with business? A lot actually. This is a perfect example of a common occurrence in the business world. How many bosses, or even clients, have you worked with whose thought process seems so archaic? How many projects have you been on that were perceived to be running smoothly with positive results only to see unexpected problems occur that derailed the project? These are the bosses that refuse to change due to the force of existing habits, the comfort of what they already know.
Risk management can be a major issue often overlooked. There is not always a proper assessment of potential risks, such as failed technology or unfortunate budget cuts. Perhaps the risk is the customer demands a change to a project’s requirements but your development organization does not have a process or plan in place for such sudden circumstances. Maybe there is new technology out there that could help you to do your job much better, but your boss or client does not want to fund new equipment. Maybe you were unknowingly provided the wrong piece of technology for the job and you later discover, only after the project has run off course, that there was something more suitable that could have prevented the whole disaster.
There are several scenarios I could write about, but the point is that it can be frustrating to work on a project that only after problems occur do you realize there were better options. Pitchers want to pitch so they won’t stop to question their coach, just as project employees won’t always question their boss’ tactics if things are currently running smoothly.
Baseball, like so many project organizations, could benefit from being more proactive. The solution to continue with the old school way is only a short term fix. The end result could potentially end a baseball career or a project. A proactive and continued effort from the start could save the team or a company millions of dollars, as well as the lost time to injury or project risks.
Pitchers and coaches could use technology to improve the pitchers form, what could a project team do? Project teams could reexamine the development model they are using; perhaps the old stove pipe model could finally be laid to rest. This could lead to the use of process improvement efforts where current processes are reviewed and improved along with proper policing to ensure process is followed.
Pitchers who welcomed change, like Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan (lets mention 42 year old Mariano Rivera and 49 year old Jamie Moyer as well), found ways to remain effective and successful for a long period of time and their names will stand the test of time in the baseball annals. We could include Tommy John as well for being the namesake of the surgery that prolonged his career.
Managers who are progressive and welcome change, whom are not afraid of failure, and resist the temptation to slip into a comfort zone, are the leaders who will remain relevant for longer periods of time in the always changing world of technology and project development.
Past innovators like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Conrad Hilton, Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, and the late Steve Jobs, to current leaders like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Phil Knight, and Jeff Bezos. They all took risks and accepted change in their culture without knowing the true outcome until it happened.
While they may be outside the scope of what you strive for, if you want to avoid the blow to the elbow and remain relevant, as well as show you can save your project time and money, avoid the comfort zone. Avoid the force of habit.