The Bench

Taking a lead and borrowing from successful sports teams often translates into amazing results both in business organisations and project teams. One such sporting element that I'd like to discuss is The Bench and what it can mean in the project delivery space.

So what is The Bench? In sports it is the amount of reserve or substitute players you have that you can bring into the game should the need arise. In projects, although a far more endangered concept, it is something very similar but instead of substitute players or reserves it is fellow project managers, engineers, planners, commercial managers, etc. that are often and usually deemed surplus to requirements but who can actually play a major role in the successful delivery of a project if utilised correctly.

Let's first take a look at why sports teams have a Bench and how they're utilised. Firstly, if there are any absences in the main starting team due to injury or illness you have someone that can fill these vacancies. And they're not just additional bodies, they all train together, learn together and understand the goals and strategies of the team. They also benefit from having built a good relationship regardless of whether they regularly play matches together or not; and best of all they tend to keep the starting players on their toes as they know that there is someone else keen to come and do the job if they are not up for it. This is what I call Bench Capacity.

Secondly, and some may say more importantly these days, the Bench allows a sports team to alter the strategy in real time. They no longer have to wait for after the match to fix it on the training ground if they have players on the Bench who are equipped to execute a different strategy. When things are going wrong during a match, players can be substituted on to the playing field or court to change the flow of the game and improve the chances of success. And these day's Bench players aren't necessarily inferior they boast a complimentary rather than supplementary skill set. This I call Bench Capability.

There's a third reason why I think the Bench is so important. Documentaries and autobiographies talk about how the understudy or protégé helped the incumbent improve their game and take it to a new level. If utilised in a proper manner and tasked with identifying weak spots - not for personal gain, but for the teams' success - the Bench can provide invaluable information, knowledge and challenge all contributing towards the team's success! I refer to this as Bench Utility.

Now let's take these three aspects and translate them into the project environment...

Bench Capacity is something I've rarely come across in the project environment because we resource our projects according to a schedule based on estimates and assumptions. How many projects have you worked on where everything has gone exactly according to plan and all assumptions have held firm? Surely if we can entertain concepts like Time Risk Allowance and Risk Registers then we should be able to allow for resource contingencies. If we are doing 3 point estimates, what if the worst case scenarios happen to come in more often than not and we've resourced our project according to the most likely estimate? This happens far too often and although it is impossible to replay the exact same scenario with different approaches, hindsight often suggests that if we just had more available resources or we had a another subject matter expert we would have avoided the large delay/cost impact!

It's not good enough however to only have additional bodies. You need additional bodies with the right experience and skill set, and they need to be actively involved in the project so that they are able to provide the type of support required. You will also need to decide on what types of resources may be scarce in the event your project decides to alter course. If there is a strong uncertainty in design then surely you'd want to have a back up plan in place should the need arise. It is easier to release someone from a project once you are certain that they are not required than to try recruit a specialist in when you all of a sudden realise that you need one! You need Bench Capability.

I can hear an argument brewing that additional resources will be sitting around doing nothing and they would be a waste of money. Well why not task them to look for weak spots? They would be well placed to scrutinise the project, they'd be able to notify you before it is too late and because they're on the same team have a genuine interest in the projects success. If utilised correctly this "waste of money" can save the project a lot of time and cost, and in turn the ROI will be well worth it! Ask yourself how much time and money Bench Utility could have saved on previous projects you've worked on!

These are my thoughts, I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree. I for one believe that The Bench is well worth investing in!

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