Project Practitioners > If Not Experience, Then What?

If Not Experience, Then What?

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


The early 2000’s Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball (MLB) used analytics to perfection. They scouted players who had very little name value yet 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 small market team, hundreds of millions of dollars to build a roster were 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 money grows on trees. Oakland could not afford to miss on anybody.


They decided to look at metrics that debunked the traditional measures of success and trailblaze the use of sabermetrics. A blind monkey can sign a talent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado for huge dollars. The skill and competency come 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 the 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, on-base percentage. Billy Beane, the Athletics General Manager, says on-base percentage is one of the most affordable skills on the market.


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 after their name are longer than their actual name? You can bring them on your team or work with them and quickly realize those credentials are masking 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 terrible in reality.


Competency determines how valued 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 and teach lesson after lesson while kicking your ass. Which project manager would you prefer? The one where things come easy or the one who got dragged through the mud but came out alive?


The project manager where things come easy hit meaningless home runs and rack up coincidental wins. The project manager who takes the ass kicking is willing to take a walk to get on base or move a runner over when it is the correct play.


How can we decide competency in an individual or a team?




Are the same mistakes or successes happening? Someone can get lucky every so often, but if an estimator continues to be awarded projects time after time, competency is obvious. The inverse is true as well. If every submission gets denied, a lack of understanding exists.


Temporary workers can be difficult to manage. They come in when available for certain hours and can only be taught specific tasks because the long layoff usually has them forgetting how to do them. However, at a certain point, they must show a grasping of knowledge. Entering property details is not tax accounting.


A red flag for lack of competency is someone who takes notes, relies on those notes, cannot read their own handwriting, then gets lost immediately when pushed out of the nest on their own. A repetitive task should not take months to understand when notes are taken and hours have been dedicated to the task.


Be on the lookout for these patterns. They tell a story words cannot.


Always Being Right

If you never make a mistake or blame someone else, your competence level is low. Secret time, no one knows everything. That includes you, your boss, your spouse, etc. Narcissism costs competency. You can have all of the credentials and degrees your heart desires, but if you think you know everything and do not listen to those around you, your competency suffers.


This person never listens, talks over others, and has an answer for everything. “I don’t know” is never spoken. The confidence some people have in their lack of knowledge is surprising. People new to a management role fall into this trap. They pretend to know while speaking in front of subject matter experts.


Take my industry of property management. I deal with plumbers, electricians, HVAC contractors all day, all week. If I start talking shop without the knowledge they possess, do you think they trust me? Even if I am telling someone else’s recap of the events, they still see through the thin veil of knowledge I possess.


Thinking I am right and delivering the message from a position of understanding only makes me look weak. Competency is developed through learning from others, especially subject matter experts. If they are the ones in control of the conversation and you steer it through questioning, a relationship forms. If you speak to them like a know-it-all and they are a child, a chasm is created.


Approach subject matter experts like you always have something to learn. It can be a nuance, or it can be basic, but the knowledge will present itself.



Retention not only refers to knowledge but also people. Of course, competent people have great knowledge retention skills. They take tests well. They build successful businesses from their expertise. An often overlooked aspect of competency is people retention. The human resource is an organization’s most valuable.


It is often said and bears repeating, “Project management is people management.” All of the technical knowledge in the world is not going to save you from losing people if you cannot connect to them on a personal level. Playing boss and being a boss are two different things. People are not robots. They do not have programs that act based on commands given to them.


They act based on feelings and emotions. “I mandate you to follow our work practices and processes” does not work for humans. Robots respond to those commands immediately. Treating people like robots increases your turnover rate. Knowledge retention is great. Human resource retention is best.


It is so awesome you know the specifications of a Rheem furnace. Did you know Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are having another baby?! It sounds silly, but people connect more on the celebrity gossip front than they do with your technical knowledge of a furnace.




Competency is a next-level, Moneyball characteristic of great team members. Racking up credentials and GPAs is fantastic. It shows commitment to the game but does not necessarily exemplify competency. Some people know how to cram and answer questions. Test taking is a skill. Competency is a characteristic.


Notice the patterns your team members develop. Why is someone more successful with estimates than others? Ask questions to find out. Is it because he or she loves the activity so much they put all their effort into it or have they devised a system?


Know it alls have not made it this far, so you are not one of them. Narcissism is a team/project/organization killer. You want to walk people out of the door quickly, become one.


Retention is often spoken about with knowledge or brain space. Competency is measured in human resource retention. People do not quit jobs; they quit bosses. Your technical knowledge is not superior. People would rather relate to you than think you are some all answering robotic machine.


The war on experience continues…

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