moneyball, consulting and making software

I never played baseball.

Well correction - I played one season through my first game. During that game I was on third base and someone got an automatic hit or something - don’t ask me I didn’t learn very much in my baseball career – but I did get to go get a point.

And boy did I – I was so excited I sprinted and slid into home.

Everyone laughed cause it was needless but even at the time I recognized that “Yeah… that was kinda dumb.”

But also good lord sliding into home base hurts.

This takes me to this week’s topic: At bats.

If you aren’t a baseball pro like me and Rick in accounting, then I’ll catch you up. An at bat is the formal term for a player’s turn to swing the bat. Every at bat is an opportunity to make an impact on the game and while statistically most go without hits, the ones that result in hits are what directly influence the result of the game.

We work in the service industry.

You know this because we build products and technologies for clients and rarely for ourselves (although Breadvan does look very exciting). There are tremendous upsides and downsides to the nature of that work. We often spend a lot of time focused on solving the challenges that come with client work: timelines, budgets, personalities, client politics, etc etc etc.

But we also get an insane amount of at bats.

In the past 12 months we will have built software that: opens toilet doors, find groceries, activates credit cards, pays road tolls, reports power outages, moves people cross country, QAs recently built homes, guides international business, allows first responders to use AR, breeds cows, helps parents connect with their kids at camp, and faking credit cards for online transactions.

That’s a lotta chances to hit a home run - I’m going to ride this baseball analogy all the way so buckle up.

Let’s look at some ways to make the most of our time at the plate:

It doesn’t always have to be big hits by the way. Cue Moneyball reference: A manager asks “Why do you like him?” Moneyball Jonah Hill responds “Cause he gets on base”.

We have a huge opportunity in making smart recommendations that don’t seem massive. Get inspired here: Little Big Details. This blog highlights tons of SMART design and tech decisions that have a huge impact on the end user experience that aren’t the result of massive decisions - but smart smaller moves. This is a collection of features and initiatives made by small teams, not executives. We want plays that get on base.

It helps to know where you need to hit the ball too.

Outcomes over outputs sounds nice in concept – several of you know I love yelling about it. But what does it mean for us when we are staring tickets down? Fires? QA builds? UTILIZATION???? Don’t be afraid to ask for an objective. Work has to get done. That’s the nature of the beast and what we should all be running towards. But running for the sake of running doesn’t do us a lot of good. Some of the best decisions I’ve seen teams make is when an engineer steps back and says “Oh if that’s what we want it would be way easier if we did it this way.” That moment only happens when we have a clear eye on the target. And if we are coming up with new ideas in flight that we can ladder back to a client objective; why wouldn’t they at least want to hear us out? We might not always get them into production but I bet it would up our batting average.

We’re gonna strike out too.
And to come full circle. I present you with an actual baseball article: Finding Confidence at the Plate.

“Too many kids feel as if they let their team, coaches, and family down in a major way if they “mess up”. This could be anything from striking out in a game or mis-hitting a ball in practice. The negativity just oozes from their body and growth cannot happen.”

We build a lot of apps. We make a lot of decisions everyday. We get a lot of at bats. We’re going to miss a lot of hits, too. The hackathon every year captures this so well. So many wild hits for the fences. And you know what? Some work and it’s freakin’ awesome. And some don’t. BUT. The learnings are just as exciting. And the collective result is so impressive and indicative of what can happen when we go for it.

Bringing that confidence and focus into more client work as we grow and acquire new projects will be fundamental in doing bigger and better things. The more we all recognize our own opportunities at bat, the more we can truly own it not just for our individual contributions but the products themselves.

And to finally wring out this analogy: What are some big wins when we do get on the plate? How can we be better prepared next time we are at bat? What are signs that we even have the bat?