Taking Nolan's Best Pitch
Bottom of the ninth, two men on, two outs. Our team was down by two runs. I'm sitting on the bench. My coach looked over at me and said, "We need a hit. Heck, we need a home run. I know this is your first game with us - heck, your first game in the Bigs - and I hate to do this to you, but go see what you can do. Just try and meet the ball."
I stand up, rookie jitters from head to toe. Then coach said to me, "Hey, kid, forget about who he is - you can do it. Even Nolan Ryan doesn't strike out everybody."
As I grab my bat and take a few practice swings, the reality of who I'm going up against finally hits me. "Oh, my gosh! It's Nolan Ryan! Do I really need to do this against a guy who can throw a 94-mph ball, right under my chin?"
How did I do against Nolan Ryan? How did Joe Namath and his AFC Jets do in their first Super Bowl game against an NFL team? How did David do against Goliath? We'll come back to all that in a moment.
Let me tell you what one of my coaches taught me. And I'll tell you, it is something you should take to heart.
First, this coach has a name: Tim Christenson. He has seen it all, so he can teach it all, and he meters it out a little at a time, as much as we can handle. One of the things Tim taught us was something that I think is really appropriate to share here - particularly for newer PMs. It's this truism: In order for a ball player to succeed at a very high level - let's say, Major League - he has to be willing and able to climb into the batter's box and stand up to a "Nolan Ryan fastball."
This industry we're in is very competitive; it can be intimidating. Sometimes the other team looks bigger, acts smarter, or wears better uniforms. They have bigger checkbooks and they are the ones who wrote the contract documents. Their bonding capacity is bigger than ours and their attorney appears to have three rows of teeth!
How about you? Did you attend a great college and earn a degree in construction management, or did you simply survive the school of hard knocks and earn your stripes there? Whether you are a degreed PM, a journeyman advancing into foremanship, or an estimator, project engineer or assistant taking on some project management responsibilities, there is still a point at which you have to climb into the batter's box for the first time. And it can be scary. Likewise, it can be equally scary when you are a veteran PM, used to working in the smaller ponds, and you're suddenly thrown into bigger waters.
So here's the point to this lesson: no matter how hard the pitcher throws or how mean he looks, he still has to pitch to you - provided you are willing to take your turn at bat. Sure, you could just give up, concede the point, curse your luck, and lick your wounds - particularly your wounded pride. But he still has to pitch to you, and he still has to put it into the strike zone if he wants to get you out. If he won't do that, you'll walk right by him. If he does that enough times, you and your team will walk away from him and right into the victory celebration.
The best athletes in the world, and the world's best PMs and CMs, are all obligated to play by the rules. Sometimes they don't like to. Sometimes they don't like you when you insist upon playing by the rules. But they are still the rules. You can't play a game without rules, and you can't very well build a project without them, either. The rules of our game are found in our contracts, plans, specs and other project documents.
You could be a rookie PM for the smallest subcontractor on a huge job, with a world class CM running it, and they still gotta pitch to you! Sure, they sometimes would rather just grimace at you, try and intimidate you, see if they can get you to do some free stuff for them. Basically, they believe that you'll blink before they will. After all, they're the veterans with the multi-million dollar contracts, and they know all the right people. They've seen rookies like you come and go: blink, blink!
Me and my Nolan Ryan? Mine was actually a Goliath named "Caltrans." How did Coach do? Stopped 'em dead in their tracks. How? Because I made them pitch to me.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.
Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management