Collaboration and roles, learning from Rugby union

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I keep on hearing team mates say things like

“it’s not my job to test, I am a <insert_role>” or “It’s not my job to design the product, I am a <insert_role>”

and I am quite tired of the behaviours caused by the message when left unchecked.

A team is more than the sum of its parts, a team has the power of collaboration.

When I was young I used to play Rugby (union).

Rugby union is a highly specialised sport, in fact the 15 players on the pitch are divided in 2 main silos, “forwards” and “backs” and within the silos there are these following roles:

Forwards: 1. Loose-head prop, 2. Hooker, 3. Tight-head prop, 4 and 5. Lock, 6. Flanker, 7. Wing Forward, 8. Number eight, 9. Scrum half

Backs: 10. Fly half, 11 and 14. Wing, 12. First centre, 13. Second centre, 15. Fullback

WOW 13 different roles for 15 people in the same team, more than the usual PO/BA/DEV/TEST/UX etc. we find in modern agile teams. How come they are able to collaborate so effectively?

The difference is that nobody in a rugby team will ever use a sentence of this type:

“I am not doing X because my role is Y”

In fact the very best rugby players are not the super specialists but the ones that are good at every different skill and activity required to play rugby. (Research the case of Brian O’Driscoll to me the synthesis of excellence in collaboration skills)

When there is a ruck 2 meters from a goal line you will see the ten stone (63Kg) Scrum Half stick his head in and push the 15+ stone (95Kg+) players away from his goal line.

He won’t say, I’m a scrum half I don’t do rucks, I guarantee 100% he won’t, because if he does he will lose the respect of his teammates, his coach and his fans and never play the game again.

Why do rugby players collaborate so well even though they are such a specialistic group? Because they have one clear goal, the clear goal is to score more points than the opponents. They all get that and do their utmost to help their teammates achieve it.

Why are agile teams not collaborating like rugby players?

One of the reasons is that they don’t see a common goal in the customer value to be delivered but see the beauty of the “elegant code”, “smart test strategy”, “beautiful solution”, outstanding “user experience” and so on.

So if you want to get your team to collaborate better together you got to give them a common cause to fight for. And just to save you time, it is not lines of code, story points, tests passed, number of bugs or lack there of, it is something bigger and more important.

Discover what it is together with your team.

 

2 lessons Muhammad Ali taught me about Agility and Innovation

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Muhammad Ali has always been my personal hero and source of inspiration. I recently discovered that my affinity for him might also reside in his natural born “agility” and ability to innovate.

This is what Ali has thought me about agility and innovation

First lesson: Be ready to react quickly to changing conditions.

Kinshasa, Zaire, October 30, 1974, 4:00 am. The fight that will be remembered as the greatest of all time is about to start.

Ali wants his world champion’s title back. He tried to get it back from Joe Frazier three years earlier but didn’t succeed, he lost. Before he could have a rematch with Joe Frazier, a brand new guy stormed the scene and took the title, this guy is George Foreman, tonight’s opponent. George Foreman is a young giant, with incredibly powerful punches that managed to knock out Frazier 6 times during their title bout.

Nobody believes Ali can beat Foreman apart from Ali himself.

The fight starts. Ali and Foreman go at each other. Ali is being hit hard by Foreman. He is incapable of making his fast hands count against his opponent’s superior power. His dancing feet are not enough to keep Foreman away. This is a disaster. Ali’s best skills, punch speed, and fast dancing legs are not enough against this guy, Ali is going to lose.

But he is Ali, the King Of The World, the greatest of all time, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

It is at this point that Ali decides to change his tactics. This is something that boxers do all the time. They start with a plan; if it doesn’t work, they go to plan B, then plan C and so on until they either find an approach that is effective or they go down.

Ali is different, his plan B is something that nobody had done before and he devises it there and there while the fight is on, while he is being outpowered by his opponent.

The rope-a-dope is born.

Ali decides to let Foreman push him to the ropes of the boxing ring and to focus only on defending. He uses the loose ropes of the ring to go down on his back and duck his opponent blows. He decides that it’s a good choice as he can transfer some of the power of his opponent blows to the elasticity of the ropes and out of his body.

His guard is as high and tight as it had ever been in his career. He throws one or two punches only when he sees a clear opening. These punches are by design not powerful, no intent of knocking his opponent out, they are defensive punches, because “he won’t hit me while I hit him clean”.

For any of the millions of Ali’s fans, the first 7 rounds of the fight are heartbreaking. They can see their hero bullied against the ropes, unable to hurt his opponent. Everybody thinks it is only a matter of time before Foreman unleashes a clean blow and knocks Ali down. Not even his corner trainer, Angelo Dundee, can understand what Ali has in mind, and he keeps on shouting “Get away from the ropes! Ali, get away from the ropes”.

Then the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and the 7th round go by like this. But by throwing so many punches, George Foreman is starting to get tired. His punches are not effective against Ali. Ali uses the ropes to absorb the power and keeps his face out of reach through a tight defensive guard. George Foreman is punching himself out, Ali’s plan is working.

Then the 8th round. Foreman’s tiredness is showing clearly, even the commentators notice he is unsteady on his legs throwing ever slower and tired punches. Ali was waiting for it and sees it too. Foreman is tired, it’s time to strike.

Twenty seconds before the end of the 8th, Ali sees Foreman unsteady on his feet slightly lose his balance, he slips the ropes by turning to his right and hits Foreman with the most beautiful combination of 6 punches you will ever see.

Foreman goes down, he never gets up.

Ali is the King Of The World again.

Second Fundamental: Don’t be afraid to fail if you want to innovate

Ali had to try something new, if he didn’t he would have lost. He could have tried a less risky approach, less risky than one that nobody had ever tried before.

But he was Ali, he was brave, he went for the big bet, and choose the riskiest solution.

His experiment was successful,  he created the rope-a-dope, an innovation in the 100-year-old world of boxing.

From Ali, I learned that being able to react to changing conditions and having courage when experimenting can help us innovate.

Thank you, my hero!

That’s what creates innovation in this world. We’ve got to try!