More Musings on Downturn

Staying sharp while on the bench is a discipline unto itself.

Now that China is gearing up its space program to put a robot on the moon, I wonder: Could the United States take its moonshot program out of mothballs and figure out what to do? Since we decided 30 years ago there was not enough ROI to warrant further trips, its certain that our skills have atrophied.

There is an IT parallel. With uncertain economic times forcing IT shops to focus on short-term projects with obvious ROI, would any shop remember how to undertake a larger, more strategic project? One IT exec I spoke with last week said: "You can go into blackout mode, but when the economy recovers, can you get back up again? People forget skills, even the skills of evaluating new equipment."

Thats scary. Without staffers who are versed in suppliers hardware lines, would you know what to buy? Worse, youd be susceptible to the vendor telling you what you need.

There are other skills, too. Picking your big-project battles is something of an art. Do you have skills for evaluating multiyear projects? And once you select one, would you know how to pitch it to corporate execs? What about project management? Could you keep things under control as the project progresses? And what about manpower? Could you hire effectively? Meta Group analyst Howard Rubin urges that you remain flexible. "You need to be able to bring costs down in tough times but then add capacity back should business turn up. Its sense-and-respond IT," Rubin said.

With the baseball season nearing, well be hearing a mantra that might be useful. It comes from noneveryday players when asked how they feel about not being a starter: "Im just going to keep my skills sharp and wait until the manager calls on me." Sigh. Staying sharp while on the bench is a discipline unto itself and, these days, a very necessary one.

Whats your secret for keeping an edge? Let me know at stan_gibson@ziffdavis.com.