More than 30 years ago Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka wrote an article titled ‘The New Product Development Game,’ which compares product development to rugby. This year’s NFL draft inspired me to make a similar analogy to American football. This is the third in a series of articles comparing agile and football around the major events including: Draft Day, Training Camp & Preseason; the Football Season; and Super Bowl.

The goal of every football game is to win! Based on the team you’re going to play, the coaches create a specific game plan and strategy to set them up for the win!

  • The ‘game’ in agile is the sprint which is a relatively short period of time (typically 1-4 weeks) where the team tries to build and deliver fairly small and well-defined chunks of business value.
  • On the first day of the Sprint, the agile team conducts sprint planning where they decide what they are going to do and how they are going to get it done.
  • The goal for every sprint is to implement the agreed upon functionality with high quality. In an effort to become more reliable and predictable, some teams actually commit to the sprint backlog and work hard to do whatever they can to meet that commitment.

The duration of the football game is always the same. Two halves of 30 minutes with four 15 minute quarters. You can’t decide one game that you only want to play three quarters. Also, when the time is up, the game is done. It’s not like you can continue a play that was started in one game and finish it in the next.

  • Once an agile team chooses the sprint duration, most commonly two weeks, then the cadence never changes. Even if sprint planning day falls on a holiday, the duration doesn’t change. They’ll just plan on the next business day and take into consideration the decrease in capacity. Also, when the last day of the sprint ends, the team only gets credit for the work that’s ‘done’. They can’t have a few more hours to wrap up testing. Partially completed work will carry over to the next sprint and that is highly frowned upon!

After every play, the football team talks to the quarterback and coaches to assess the progress they’ve made, what they are going to do next, and who the players are that we need to keep an eye on who may prevent them from making forward progress.

  • Every 24 hours, the agile team conducts a quick 15-minute meeting called the daily Scrum or standup. The purpose of the meeting is to assess how they are doing towards accomplishing their goal and/or commitment. They discuss what they’ve finished since yesterday, what they plan to finish today and if there are any blocking impediments.

In a football game when you score a touchdown, you get six points. The complexity and time it took to do that gives you more points than let’s say a field kick that only gives you three points. Also, after a touchdown, the team decides if their next play is to kick a field goal for one extra point or to run it in for two extra points. The plays that are more complex, require more players and effort render more points.

  • Agile teams typically estimate work using a modified Fibonacci scale with values of 0, ½, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 50, and 100 that are called points. This sequence is used to represent relative sizing of one item compared to another. For example; item A is twice as big as item B, and item B is three times the size of story C. The entire team agrees upon the size considering a variety of items such as complexity, development and testing effort, risks, and unknowns.

You win a football game by scoring the most points.

  • In agile, you ‘win’ a sprint when you deliver the points that the team committed to. By doing what they say they are going to do, the team earns credibility and respect = winning!

NFL games are attended by team owners, family, friends, and 10,000 of your biggest fans. Plus it’s broadcast on TV for more fans to watch.

  • Stakeholders and customers get to see the sprint deliverables during the sprint demo. The preference is for everyone to attend in person, but it’s not uncommon to have to use a collaboration tool such as GoToMeeting to broadcast the demo live to remote folks. The demo can also be recorded for those who weren’t able to attend.

As we all know, you can’t win them all. You win some you lose some. Regardless, after every game the coaches and team talk about how the game went and what they need to work on before the next game. Football is tough, they get injuries and crushed egos. But they don’t quit because they are frustrated. They use this time of reflection to pick themselves up, dust it off and try again.

  • At the end of every sprint, the agile team conducts a sprint retrospective where they reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and what they can improve on. Working as a team is tough and there are so many little things that get in the way of the team being successful. Through talking about those things during retrospectives and being empowered to take action, the team can continuously improve and become a high performing team!

For more information on the fundamentals of agile, check out our Agile 101 resources.

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