How The Agile Coach Can Learn From The Special One

, Agile, Coach, development, Scrum

I am a big football (soccer for Americans) fan. I regularly attend matches for not only my team but others as well as watching any football I can find on TV. I love the game, and the thing I love most about the game is the managers. I am often asked by my girlfriend why it is that when a team is having a run of poor form, instead of replacing the 11 men on the field they fire and replace the one man off the field? Simple, he is there to facilitate them achieving all they can, removing any impediments that stand in their way, similar to an agile coach.

For example, any person who has made it to the rank of professional footballer has a good level of skill at the game. We can assume they are able to kick a ball in a straight line and know what they are doing. It is the manager however that coaches them at putting their requisite skills together in the right way, of freeing the team’s mind of anything else than how they can effortlessly do what they do best. By setting the team up in a way where they feel they are as prepared as possible and can use their skills in the fullest manner possible, things can be achieved (Blackpool and Holloway I am looking at you).

The “best” football possibly ever played was by The Ajax team from around 1970 - called Total Football. This tactical system can be stated as follows:

“Total Football” is the label for an influential theory of tactical association football in which any player can take over the role of any other player in the team.

Now to me that sounds like a team that is cross-functional! No specialisations, everybody able to pitch in where needed at any time and all working cohesively together towards a common “goal” (sorry for the pun!)

So why should I have mentioned this quite evidently obvious fact? Playing the best most attractive football won’t necessary win you matches. You have to work hard improving as a team before you can get there, you will not just become a team going from playing route one (hit it up field and hope) football to suddenly being a team that is playing such glorious football. You have to train the players in the right way, alter their thinking and work hard at it. More importantly perhaps, you have to get them into the habit of winning.

Winning is a habit, and this is the same for an agile team, winning is habitual. Winning in football means scoring more than your opposition and taking home 3 points. Sometimes however, a victory can mean getting a draw, and sometimes it can just mean survival. In an agile team often people focus too much on “becoming agile”, “being an agile team” etc. You need to understand where you are starting from, and get the technical skills being improved upon, working on the process of development (your tactics and strategy) and accepting your victories as they come on the journey. For a team with no unit test coverage,  adopting TDD and achieving 75% on all new code will be a major achievement,  for a more experienced agile team, anything less than having obtained 100% coverage and completed all signed upto stories (being the ideal team we read about) will be classed as a failure.

The job of the agile coach is to put the team on the right track, helping them to start passing the ball more fluidly and moving in a more co-ordinated manner. It is not a job that is the coach’s alone, everyone in the organisation needs to prepare and practice for success, but it is the coach who will have to bear the brunt of this.

I want to finish this article by talking about Jose Mourinho, the Special One. As a Man Utd fan, he is a man I have loathed greatly, but he is someone who I look to as an inspirational coach, and as a brilliant agile coach. He diverts all attention from his team by being loud and brash removing the impediment of the media and allowing the players to focus on football. He consistently reiterates his philosophy of winning, of training right and playing in the most effective way against his next opponent (and it isn’t often/always pretty football). Most importantly is the moniker he has given himself, “The Special One”, which he truly believes he is, and after his successes, so now does every manager and player on the planet. He has garnered a respect and aura amongst his team that they are instantly uplifted by his presence and believe they are champions. A good coach knows how to inspire their team. You don’t have to do it in the same way, but you have to be able to get that belief instilled in the team members that they can do this. Remember it is about helping the team to do the best they can, and a person who has belief in their system and skills will always perform to the best of their abilities, and write some damn good software.

Be Champions!

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