Bottom of the Ninth

[Rube Benton, Cincinnati NL (baseball)]  (LOC)

“Whoever is pitching the bottom of the 9th better have some idea what they’re doing.” – Scott Willsey on ADN

Every position is absolutely critical to the baseball team. Infielders are directly responsible for preventing runners on base from making it home. Outfielders must recover hits that make it past the infield and quickly get the ball back in. A catcher is the final barrier between a runner and his victorious descent on the plate. Even though these positions are all critical, it is the pitcher who shoulders the game. A good pitcher controls more than where the ball is delivered to the batter. Good pitchers control the rhythm and emotion of the game.

Because of this responsibility, no other position on the team is so quickly replaced. The shortstop or center fielder are rarely pulled mid-inning, but pitchers who find themselves struggling are quickly swapped for somebody in the bullpen. When this happens, the reliever must carry his usual game-directing responsibilities, as well as the challenge of correcting the mess he’s inherited.

Some pitchers are able to throw a complete game occasionally. It isn’t by chance they’re able to do this: they’ve practiced and have refined their skills to the highest level. Other pitchers excel at saving games, and possess the mental strength to focus on the immediate task of retiring batters and keeping runners on base. The approach of each is different, especially depending on the stage of the game; pitching in the first inning is very different than trying to stop the bleeding after the stretch.

Now imagine that instead of pitching a baseball game, you’re leading the development of a software project. Everybody on the team is critical to getting the project shipped. A sleepy tester in left field could be disastrous for the project, especially late in the game when it’s difficult to recover. Having an all-star designer on third base won’t matter if your clumsy marketer on second can’t turn a double play. You have to be part of a great team, and that team has a technical core.

If you’re in charge of delivering the software, you’re on the mound. It doesn’t matter if you were the starter or got called up as the reliever late in the game. The project is on your shoulders; you set the rhythm for the project1 and steer the course for how it comes together. To win, you have to prepare, know the game and your opponent, and be able to focus on the immediate task of shipping software.

  1. Regardless of how hard your PM tries to make you to go faster