Football coaching and the Agile PM

Let me start by saying I am a football fan. Specifically, a Chelsea fan. Now before you all start hooting derisive comments about our captain, money or Russians, let me ask you this : have you ever considered the parallels between the manager – also sometimes known as the head coach – of a top-flight football club, and the manager of an agile project team? No? I have.

Those of you who follow the sport will know all too well that, after just nine months in charge of the team, Andre Villas Boas (AVB) was sacked by the club following a string of poor results. To put this into perspective, this was the same man who, in his second year as a club manager, took Porto to the league and cup double and won the Europa league. He clearly knew how to coach a team to success. So, why did it all go wrong?

As this article explains better than I could, it was not his tactics that were at fault. In fact, in the early games, he demonstrated an astute grasp of tactics that won four of his first five games in charge. No, his problem was his failure to understand why his old mentor Jos̩ Mourinho was so successful Рhis people management skills!

Mourinho can be an abrasive character at times, but he loved his players and they loved him in return. He spent time with them, he got to know them and understand them. He understood not only their footballing strengths and weaknesses but what they were like as people, and their position in the dressing-room hierarchy. He stroked egos and kicked arses with equal skill, when either was required. In short, he understood that football is not a game played by pieces on a tactics board, it is played by real people with feelings and (admittedly inflated) egos.

Roberto di Matteo understands this too, and this is why he has taken the team to both the FA Cup and Champions League finals as “interim” manager. Have you noticed how much happier the players are these days? How much he celebrates and commiserates with them? He understands that his job is to get the best out of the team as a whole, not to establish his authority over the senior players, as AVB tried to do. It is no coincidence that the team’s performance has improved since di Matteo took over.

An agile project manager has a similar role – to understand the people in the team, to know their strengths and weaknesses and to ensure that they are in a mindset that ensures that each individual is totally committed to the goal of the team as a whole. When football players sacrifice an opportunity for personal gratification by gifting another player with an easier shot at goal, you know he has the team at heart. When a project team member helps out others on the team in order to drive greater quality or team productivity, you can tell they are operating effectively.

It is all too easy to think of people as coders or testers or business analysts, but each member of the team should be thinking of themselves as a member of a Solution Development Team. And it is the sum of the work of the team that is important, not the productivity of an individual. Get the team working well together and watch their performance improve!

About aterny

Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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2 Responses to Football coaching and the Agile PM

  1. Nice article Chris, well thought out and I love the parallel. I feel we both have a dream, getting PMs to behave more in the manner you described rather the old-style command and control way of doing things.

    PS what ever happened to supporting a proper team say like Leeds United ;0)

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