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3 IT lessons agile teams can learn from the Women's World Cup

John Jeremiah Evangelist, GitLab

Held every four years, the FIFA Women's World Cup tournament was hosted in 2015 by Canada. The team fielded by the US won the final match this past Sunday, July 5.

I admit it, when I think of football, I think of the NFL. Not "futbol," or as we call it in the US, "soccer." I'm not a soccer native, but my many friends around the world have taught me to appreciate it. For the past two weeks, I've been actively following this year's Women's World Cup and especially last Sunday's exciting final match. As I was watching, I realized that there were several IT and business lessons for agile teams being demonstrated on the pitch. (For you football newbies out there, that's the playing field).

1. Teamwork over silos and separate processes

The 11 players on the field clearly have their specific roles to play, but their interaction is fluid and dynamic. They rapidly respond and react to the game as it unfolds, without checking a RACI diagram or SLA about who should take the ball or how fast they should pass it. The players each observe the situation, understand their strengths, and then collaborate (pass the ball) to gain an advantage. There are clear leaders, but it's a team on the field that wins or loses.

Think about your own delivery process. How many separate silos do your players have to navigate when trying to get their changes into production to score a goal? Do your silos and processes really help them react fast, or do they just slow them down?

2. Communication and trust

The match is fast and fluid, the team has to quickly respond, and it needs to respond together. They know what to expect from each other, and they trust that their teammates will be ready to receive passes and run with the ball. On defense, they work together to protect the goal—all without stopping to send an email, chat, or request additional help.

Too frequently in software development and production environments, the lack of trust and empathy between development and operations has led to a toxic relationship. In an agile and DevOps world, all the people responsible for the app (dev, QA, security, ops) need to trust each other and collaborate on reaching one shared objective.

3. Leadership and empowerment

If you watch the sidelines during the game, you see the leader, who knows what their team is capable of. This leader is intense and engaged, evaluating where to help the team without micromanaging it. The team has the authority and ability to execute the game plan, knowing that their leader is there to support them if they need help.

When you look at your own leadership, do they encourage and empower teams to take ownership of their results?

As IT leaders—correction—as business leaders, you need to set the stage for your teams to operate in an agile and DevOps world. Enterprise agile teams need to have many of the same characteristics that the US Women's National Team displayed in their play over the two weeks leading up to the championship.

Your agile teams need to avoid over-specialization and becoming trapped by silos and rampant bureaucracy. They need to have trust from leadership and for each other, so they can focus on execution and learn from mistakes. Leaders need to inspire them with confidence and empower them to make decisions.

I'm suggesting that the best agile and DevOps teams in the industry will look a lot like this year's Women's World Cup champions.

Image source: Flickr

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