How We Get There… Or More Accurately, Can We Get There? (Part 1): The Project Management Triangle

The Project Management Triangle: There’s just no getting around these constraints.

This is part of an ongoing series: Link

Finding the Sweet Spot: High, but Achievable Goals

I spent quite a bit of time and energy reviewing “What We Have” and “What We Want” (Yikes: 17 articles!) But, that tedious process was really, really necessary.  Sure, it’s a lot more fun to actually draw up the plans to move this great sport forward.  Heck, that’s true with almost any planning process.  Enough, already!  Paralysis by analysis.  Let’s get to work!

Problem is, though, if you don’t do that legwork up front you could well be drawing up plans that given your current situation simply aren’t practical.  Or, you might be planning for something that doesn’t actually match your organization’s goals very well.  Sometimes big projects will even take on a life of their own so much so that nobody can even remember what the original reason for them was in the first place.

All of those are big reasons why it’s necessary to closely look at “What We Have” and “What We Want” and determine how feasible it is to get from one to the other.  Because if it’s not feasible that’s a major problem.  And, that major problem can only be fixed in one way:  By scaling back “What We Want”.  Sure, it would be nice to magically change your “What We Have” starting point, but you can’t change your current reality.  It is, what it is.

And, at the other end it can also be tough to lower your expectations.  To downscale lofty goals.  That’s no fun, either, but often that’s the only thing you can do.  Otherwise you’re simply setting yourself up for failure.  The fix, however, is not to come up with simple goals that can be easily met.   No, the solution is to find the sweet spot of high, but achievable goals.  Obtainable goals worthy of special effort that can genuinely move handball forward as a sport in this country.

The Project Management Triangle: Cost, Schedule and Performance

So, how does one determine whether it’s possible to go from “What We Have” to “What We Want”? For “projects” or project like efforts that assessment can be done through a review of the project plan. A “project” is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. In terms of USA Team Handball there have been a number of “endeavors” over the years intended to grow the sport or to produce good national team results.  The Boys & Girls Club pushes in Los Angeles (1980s) and Atlanta (1990s and early 2000s) could be classified as projects.  The various residency programs implemented over the years were projects typically focused on maximizing national team capabilities for the Olympic Handball Tournaments.  Currently, efforts to grow collegiate handball, youth handball, improve near term national team performance and yes, the Big, Hairy, Audacious Project are all projects.

And, like any project they are constrained by cost, schedule and performance.  What is often referred to as the Project Management Triangle.  A project has an intended performance outcome, but only has so much money to spend and time to work with.  And, if you want to alter one element of the triangle it’s a given that you have to change the other parts of the triangle in some respect.

A Test Case for Illustrative Purposes:  Growing College Handball to 100 Clubs

Let’s take growing collegiate handball as an example.  Let’s say our goal is to have 100 collegiate clubs by the end of the 2020.  With currently only 15 Men and 4 Women’s clubs that’s pretty ambitious.  Throw in the COVID-19 Pandemic and it seems pretty unlikely that we can meet our targeted performance (100 clubs) in the desired schedule (31 Dec 2020).  Keep those constraints and you can only attack the problems with more money.  I guess if we had $5M we could provide direct cash payments to 81 colleges to start college handball programs and hire 5 full time staffers to be 100% focused on this effort, but that doesn’t seem very practical.

This logically means scaling back schedule and/or performance.  With the pandemic it’s not clear what the 2020-21 season will even look like and that could make starting new clubs pretty challenging.  It’s debatable, but a better target end date would likely be May 2022 or May 2023.  Further, some more work is probably needed in fleshing out a good target for performance (# of clubs).

Defining Performance: Clearly Defined Deliverables and Targets that can be Tracked and Measured

This leads to another aspect that requires some careful thought and consideration.  Namely, a project plan with a schedule and clearly defined deliverables and targets.  Simply having broad objective statements like “we want 100 college clubs” leaves way too much open to interpretation.  Clear targets like “100 college clubs that contest 15 matches/year” are better along with other deliverables like a college handball start-up kit that will help get to the final project objective.

Competing Goals and Projects

It would be nice if USA Team Handball had just one goal and one project to worry about.  Unfortunately, however, that has never been the reality and this has been most visibly displayed over the years by choices that have been made between grassroots development and national team preparation. There has never been enough funding to properly do both (or even just one) and in most cases, the “decision” has been made to focus on national teams. I’ve put “decision” in quotes because many times it’s not been clear as to whether a thorough decision making process to prioritize limited resources was used or whether the decision just happened by default.

I bring this reality up, because sometimes folks think that it doesn’t matter if we as an organization fall short of lofty, audacious goals. That such goals can serve as inspiration and we’re going to strive for our best regardless of whether we fall short… So, what’s the harm? Well… the harm is that there are competing needs and spending resources on an effort that is unlikely to succeed is highly questionable if there are other options with greater chances of success.

Can We Get There?: Determining Feasibility

The next parts of this series will assess the feasibility of a number of different efforts that USA Team Handball has started or plans to start in the near future. In particular, it will review “What We Have” and assess whether can feasibly get to to “What We Want” in terms of cost, schedule and performance.

Spoiler Alert: We are likely to fall short in almost every instance. Please don’t shoot the messenger