How agile makes football work

waterfall   agile   football  

I've been looking for a good analogy for how agile makes things better for a long time. The usual ones revolving around cars and houses just didn't seem to quite fit that well. So this morning I thought: what about football?

Firstly don't think I'm a football nut. In fact, I'm not really into any sports. But it struck me that football, or in fact any team based sport is the perfect analogy. I picked football because down here in Melbourne, we are known for AFL. A fast paced and action packed version of football.

Football is Agile

Once I started thinking about a football team I realised that team sports are inherently agile:

  • At the start of the year, the team works out some broad plans and strategies with the goal of winning the season. Agile projects do the same, planning the major features of the project and how they want to go about them.
  • Each game is like a sprint/interation.
  • Before each game a strategy is planned out in more detail. Just like agile does with stories.
  • During the game, strategies may change as some things work and others don't. In an agile sprint/interation the same happens. Sometimes things take longer or don't work, other things may occur quicker.
  • After each game the team looks back at the games to see what it did well and what went wrong. It them works out what it can do to improve itself. Exactly like an agile retro where developers look at how they can improve the development process.
  • At all times the team coach and fitness experts are around, testing the team and helping them to better their football skills. This is what agile coaches, teams leads and testers do for a software project. This is why agile teams place so much importance on having customers, designers and testers sitting with them. And also why they want continuous integration servers constantly testing their software.

So what if football was running using traditional waterfall techniques?

This is the strange thing. No-one questions that agile is the way to run a football team. The concept of not doing it is so alien that no-one even considers it. So lets see what would happen if they did:

At the beginning of the year the club would consult with some football experts who may or may not have real game experience. But rarely would this include any current players or the coach.

This group would look at each schedule game in detail and plan out exactly how each player would behave, assign them positions, how they would play and specify how much time they could spend being injured. All of this and more would be detailed in a very large document and handed to the coach. It's the "Master Plan".

The coach would be instructed to follow and not deviate from the "Master Plan" as it had be carefully worked out by "Experts" who could magically predict every game situations before it occured.

The coach will call together the Team and hold a meeting where he will launch the plan. he will give a long speach about it and also about how great the team is and how everyone should give 110% to achieve the goal of winning the season.

The coach will then leave to go do other things and not appear again until near the end of the season.

The team captain will read most of the plan, but is unlikely to read it all as it will be far too detailed and often clearly and completely wrong. He will attempt to follow the plan as much as possible. But in all likelyhood, unless he wants to fail completely, he will deviate as necessary.

The players will deem it useless straight away and regard it as TL;DR

At each game the team will pretty much have to fend for itself. Often team members will have to work extra hours to maintain their own fitness and deal with things which are not in the "Master Plan". They won't have access to any guideance as to what they may be doing wrong or strategies for improvement. Nor will they be able to consult with fitness experts to help them stay in shape. All questions are referred back to the "Master Plan" in the hope that it has the answer.

Only at later stages of the season will fitness experts appear as scheduled by the "Master Plan". They will of course, find a lot of injuries and issues and report them back to the club.

The club will then freak out at the amount of injuries and allocate more players to the team in order to fix the problem. In all probability these will be either junior players or retired players. It may or may not help.

By the end of the season, depending on how lucky the club was in designing the "Master Plan" and how much effort the team was able to apply to correcting the errors, the team may or may not have won. Usually they don't, quite often only coming in 4th or 5th if they are lucky. Often getting the wooden spoon for being last.

The coach has also reappeared by now, taking credit for a successful season or yelling at the team if they failed to achieve the goals in the "Master Plan". Blaming them for not following it.

What a disaster

There are so many things wrong with trying to run a sporting team this way, it's hard to know where to start. I won't bother listing them here. I think they are pretty obvious.

The lesson here is simply that agile is nothing new. We have actually been doing it for a long time.


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