Sport Industry Going Agile

Ever since adaptive software development proved its efficiency, many professional individuals and organizations have shown aspiration to improve their IT processes by utilizing agile. Recently, I've been finding myself thinking about some particular industries such as "sport" and "music". Although these sectors could be perceived as irrelevant choices for agile manifesto notions, some organizations operating within their boundaries have endeavoured to interpret and apply agile methods. Trying to uncover their convergence to The Scrum Framework has been a useful pursuit for me to enhance my understanding of the concept. "In what unexpected industries have these practices been successfully executed? and How?" are the questions, to be more precise. From my point of view, the most obvious and the most interesting ones are derived from the sport industry.

Initially, when looking carefully at the last decade of the history of professional team sports, it is possible to come across some good examples which have illustrated this approach. F.C. Barcelona, for instance, a globally renowned Spanish football club. Following an agile framework for bringing up their young prospects and organizing technical aspects on the field, the Catalan team is one of the most remarkable epitomes in the sport industry to say the least.

"The first mission of coaches is to help boys with their behaviour, and only the second is to show them how to be good players."

Albert Puig, Head of the F.C. Barcelona Youth Academy

Coaching youngsters who are not yet fully adopted being professional athletes, removing mental impediments to their progress and prioritizing this approach over technical assistance, coaches of La Masia bear a resemblance to Scrum Masters. Besides, another characteristic resemblance is fairly observable at senior level. In recent years the team has been structured to be cross-functional and self-organizing. They have chosen players who are able to survive and contribute through this model. For F.C. Barcelona technical staff, players with the ability to play at more than one position with a solid efficiency are favorable over traditional players with fixed position. Most of the current and former squad members answer this description such as Rakitic, Mascherano, David Villa, Abidal, Deco, Yaya Toure, Keita, Rafinha and of course exceptional players like Messi, Ronaldinho, Iniesta, Thierry Henry, Neymar. Not only are those players capable of playing at multiple positions without offending the eye, they are also capable of being integral parts of a self-organizing team thanks to their collaborative skills.

The other side of the coin is that if you do not follow the rules of the framework and adapt to new challenges, you'll probably end up being removed from the squad after a while. Even if you are a world class player. Case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, failure story of a spectacular player that was sent away from F.C. Barcelona after a season overshadowed by adaptation issues can be argued as the strongest instance for this statement.

"None of the lads acted like superstars, which was strange. The whole gang – they were like schoolboys."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

(Yes Ibra, because they knew there were no extra titles in the team like "superstar" or "regular player", quality of the increment and accountability belonged to the whole squad)

NBA comparison

Another agile framework adaptation case I would like to address has been established by NBA teams. Especially contender franchises have transformed their processes. Traditional coaches who try to micromanage players so as to control each move they make on the basketball court have been substituted with their counterparts who manage by means of "facilitator" mentality. Rosters containing players with strictly defined positions have been substituted with ones comprising players who can play at multiple positions to optimize "flexibility, creativity and productivity", which are the primary attributes of Scrum Teams.

Evolution of analytics has fostered inspection opportunities and fortified transparency for the teams. As a result, learning from experience and making adjustments accordingly have become easier comparing with the past. For the last few years, roster structure of Golden State Warriors has served as a model for this evolvement and franchises considering to utilize an agile framework. Almost every player in Golden State Warriors roster has the ability to shoot and create. They can play a collaborative basketball and they are sharing the responsibility as a whole team. The team has all necessary skill sets to win it all. Because they are acting like an organism that is able to adapt to every environment.

New-Gen NBA rosters have been playing in a fashion that is "simple to understand" but "diffucult to master".

More or less, standard game preparation process of a NBA team conforms to events and artifacts introduced in The Scrum Framework. Assuming a single game as a sprint, the process begins with the pre-game meeting (sprint planning). This meeting answers those questions "What can be achieved for the upcoming game?" and "How can it be achieved?". The tasks generated by the coach in the light of the feedbacks of stakeholders must be taken into account by the team. Furthermore, technical experts such as "Game Tape Analysts" can be invited to participate the meeting to give suggestions. Ultimately, team creates a goal and a game plan to deliver it. It can be claimed that coaches play Scrum Master role as lead facilitators and General Managers replace for Product Owners since they are business faces and value maximizers of the franchise. Nonetheless, it is sort of interchangable and roles are not as strict as the roles in The Scrum Framework.

When the game (sprint) begins, the team may have to adapt their processes according to flow of the game. Although its timing can be alternated situationally in contradistinction to daily scrum, time-out (daily scrum) concept serves as one of the formal opportunities to inspect and adapt the current situation of the team. Main questions are "What did we do until now?", "What will we do for the rest of the game" and "Do we see any impediment that prevents us achieving our goal regarding the game?".

A time out conducted by Spurs players instead of coach Popovich. Will we see similar scenes more frequently in the future?

Post-game evaluation comprises two parts. First part is like sprint review. Making post-game interviews and answering questions for the actions the team took during game, receiving feedbacks from the organization and even from the supporters (the users/customers) through social media platforms and other channels are encompassed by this part. Second part is internal and all about inspecting itself and creating a plan for improvements to be executed during next game. It stands for sprint retrospective.

All in all, the similarity between management methods utilized by new generation sport teams and agile frameworks has been more visible lately. It can be discussed that this approach has been bringing about the success in some way. I strongly believe that it would make a good research topic to understand and optimize benefits of putting agile methods into practice in diverse fields.

I'd love to hear your opinion, please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.


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