Blog / What do WAGs, Dutch "total" football, and Agile have to teach us about effective software dev. & delivery?

Tym Moore
September 16, 2009

I have to confess I have played team sports all my life, especially football with a somewhat unlikely claim to fame of having played the game in Papua New Guinea and watched by the country’s Prime Minister! I have some experience of playing at different levels of the game and in hindsight can conclude that the sum of the individual skills of the players is not as important as team morale, a team plan and an ability to adapt to different situations quickly and effectively. Not a striking revelation I hear you say, but how does it apply to software development and delivery?

Let’s start with the obvious. Both football (feel free to insert any competitive team sport you like at this point) and software delivery share certain characteristics; both have goals (one literally), the result is paramount-requiring a team to deliver, and that team has to be well managed and adaptable to succeed. Both have constraints and these are both formal - the rules of the “game”- which in sport is easy to see (e.g. only the goalkeeper can handle the ball within a confined area), and in software delivery this might be start and end dates, total costs, minimal acceptable functionality etc, but generally are formally laid out and are considered as read and common to all participants. The fun starts when you look at the informal rules and see how successful football managers use them to differentiate themselves and deliver a quality result.

This is where the WAGS come in (Wives and Girlfriends). A new manager (Fabio Capello) has taken over the England national team and has not, by and large, changed the players but has achieved an unbeaten run in competitive matches, which is leading to the team goal (to win the World Cup in July 2010). What he has done is to introduce a series of systems the team play to, created confidence (through belief in the system and the results achieved), and brought in clear leadership and discipline. E.g. WAGs’ are not allowed in the team hotel before the match and must always be in the background. To bring it back to the software delivery analogy - they do not contribute to the immediate result and therefore can be put to one side!

Having cleared up the WAG mystery I want to move onto Dutch “total” football. In the 1970’s the Dutch were credited with revolutionising the game and what they did, in effect, was to change their approach to the informal rules. Cruyff (world footballer of the year) attributed this to the willingness of all to question and improve (in agile we use retrospectives to achieve the same result). Fundamentally they chose team strength over individual ability and each player took responsibility to make the team effective. They did this because they wanted to lift the informal constraints every team played by - which was each player had a specific role which he performed in a very particular area of the field. The Dutch decided that, as everyone has sufficient skills (confidence in one another) they could freely interchange roles and positions – hence the term “total’ football. The agile approach also embraces this liberation by having as few roles as possible and playing a system, which allows the team to adapt incredibly quickly to changing circumstances.

At Unboxed we have taken the same approach as Capello and the Dutch. Everyone at Unboxed is keen to understand our clients’ needs and constraints, and we’re driven to deliver the right results. We are confident in our Agile system, and we have a proven track record to show it works. We recognize the importance of good team management, and our players are a bright, multi-skilled folk with a strong delivery mentality, and the confidence to succeed.