A Sports Analogy for DevOps Thinking

I have been known to go off a bit on how typical management culture self-defeats on its attempts to execute more quickly.  This is a pretty common cultural problem as much as management problem.  Here is some perspective.  Football (American Football, that is) has an ineligible receiver rule.  The roles of the individual players, on offence especially, are so specialized that only certain people can receive a pass.  Seriously.  Then there are very specialized ‘position coaches’ who make sure that individual players focus on the subset of skills they need to perform their specific job.  There is also very little cross-training.  This works fine in the very iterative, assembly-line way the game is played.  Baseball is the same way – very specialized.  And both are quintessentially 20th century American games that grew during (and reflect) an industrial mindset.

However, business is a free-flowing process.  There are no ‘illegal formations’.  Some work.  Some don’t.  The action does not stop.  A better game analogy for releasing software (or running IT, or even the whole business) in the modern era would be Soccer (Football in the rest of the world).  The game constantly flows.  There are no codified rules about who passes the ball to whom.  The goalie is actually only special in that he can use his hands – when standing in his little area.  There is no rule that says it is illegal for him to come out of that area and participate as a regular player.  This occasionally happens in the course of elimination tournaments, in fact.

I draw this comparison to point out the relative agility of a soccer team to adapt to an ever changing game flow.  Football teams only function when there is a very regulated flow of events and where there are a number of un-realistic throttles and limits on the number and types of events.  When you compare this to how most IT shops are set up, you find a lot of Football teams and very few soccer teams.  And guess which environments are seen as more adaptable to the needs of their overall organizations…

Authors note:  I picked soccer over hockey and basketball principally because the latter two sports rely heavily on rapid substitution and aggressive use of timeouts.  Those are luxuries that modern online business most certainly does not have.  Substitutions happen slowly in the enterprise and there darn sure are no timeouts.


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