My Story Coach having us drink water was trying to build faith in leadership rather than the mission itself Bounced from LB to DL, etc. Coach LB came in and said that the DL was the most important unit on the field. That, without us, the mission would fail.
What Women's Tackle Football Can Teach Us
About Competitive Software Delivery
• Defensive End
• 4 years w/ NY Sharks
• 2 years as Marketing Director
• 2013 2nd Team All-American
• 2014 All-American
• UI/UX & Web Developer
• Sr. Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton
• 14 Years on the “Operations Side”
THE CULTURE QUESTION
“We estimate that, by 2018, 90% of organizations
attempting to use DevOps without specifically
addressing their cultural foundations will fail.” – Ian
Head, Gartner’s Research Director
“People who work together will win, whether it be
against complex football defenses, or the problems of
modern society.” – Vince Lombardi
• In football, culture is CRITICAL to success
• Overlap between DevOps and Football:
• Mission Focus
• Agility & Flexibility
• Continuous Assessment
• Some roles achieve more “glory” that others, but we all
(hopefully) find it rewarding.
“The sport is all eleven people working together at the same
time, or the play breaks down. Those aren’t football lessons;
those are life lessons.” – Jen Welter, Team USA Linebacker
and first female NFL Coach in “What Did Football Teach Me”
by Emory Hunt
Culture Change As Adults
Like the members of a software delivery organization, a
successful women’s football team requires that grown
adults make significant cultural changes.
“For women the culture of football is being learned at an older age
but still plays a major role in the success of women’s football.”
– Coach Lybrant Robinson
Former NFL & CFL Defensive Lineman
Current NY Sharks Defensive Coordinator
SPECIALIZATION VS. SILOS
“You get hit the hardest when trying to run or hide from
a problem. Like the defense on a football field, putting
all focus on evading only one defender is asking to be
blindsided.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy
✔ Refined Skillsets ✔ Refined Skillsets
✖ Limited Scope/Orbit ✔ Fosters "Big Picture"
✖ Encourages "Good Enough"
✔ Encourages Ownership &
✖ Susceptible to Failure From
✔ Increased Communication
Channels & Feedback Loops
✖ “Tunnel Vision” ✔ “Head-on-a-swivel”
✖ Teams are Homogenous ✔ Team Roles are Diverse
On the Field: The Example
To demonstrate the effect of silos vs. ineffective and
effective specialization, let’s take a look at a basic scenario
of defensive line play.
CRG LG LTRT
DEDE DT DT
Quarterback (QB) is
the player who will
have the ball.
Defensive Linemen (DL) are the players who will try to tackle the
QB while she has the ball.
Offensive Linemen (OL) are the
players who will try to protect the
QB from being tackled by the DL.
On the Field: The Setup
Let’s say that after the ball is snapped, the Left DE rushes
up the edge, but the DT’s don’t get a push up the middle,
leaving a potential running lane for the QB.
CRG LG LTRT
DEDE DT DT
DON’T: Focus ONLY on the
task you’ve been given,
without taking account of
other potential risks.
DON’T: Sacrifice the
completion of your own job
to compensate for
On the Field: Good Specialization
Left DE completes assignment, staying outside until QB
has passed her and can no longer bounce outside. She
then pursues QB, forcing her back inside. DT is able to get
off her block and tackle QB for a loss.
The Bottom Line
DO YOUR JOB… until…
The Job is Done
The Job Changes
• Communication and Education are KEY to knowing
WHEN the job is done and/or has changed.
• Don’t be afraid to call “HELP!”
Exercise: A Little Healthy Competition
What to do: Have internal competitions with
• Football teams are constantly in competition WITHIN the team
• Include both:
• Role-base competitions (allow roles to compete AGAINST each other)
• Team-based competitions (those that involve teams made of a mix of
• This will help team members:
• Understand specifically how each role is depending on the others
• Understand how/when to call “help”
• Build bonds across roles, not just within them
“Winning isn't every thing; it's the only thing.” - Henry
Russell ("Red") Sanders
• Provides a purpose for ALL levels and roles within the
• Helps ensure that iterative goals are defined in support of
overall business goals
• Acts as a “North Star” to guide individuals in the absence
of appropriate iterative goals
• Individuals are incentivized ONLY to meet personal and iterative
• Silos develop
• Morale can diminish as individuals don’t feel their work is valuable
In order to keep team members focused on the Mission,
they must believe:
1. The Mission is good.
2. The Mission is possible.
3. They can impact the success of the Mission.
Otherwise, they will prioritize individual goals (which do
meet those criteria) higher than the overall mission.
Goal & Mission Definition
• Who is affected?
• E.g., Individual, Team, Organization
• What is the frame of reference?
• E.g., Task, Project, Timeframe
• How is the goal achieved?
• Define success.
On The Field
Let me tell you my story…
The Bottom Line
• Leadership is important, but only lemmings march off the
cliff. Intelligent, top-performing team members must
believe in where leadership is taking them.
• The mission must be relevant to each team member.
• Leadership must demonstrate to each team member that
his or her role is critical to the success of the mission.
• Communication and inclusion: team members should be
informed so that they can make the best possible “on-the-
field” decisions in support of the mission.
For Team USA in 2010, the players and coaches were
faced with a unique challenge. As the first women’s squad
to compete in a World Championship, they didn’t have any
previous examples of victory to look up to.
Their coaches guided them in visualization exercises to
help them build that image of success within their own
minds. Coach Mark “Mac” Mclaughlin had each player
picture herself on the stand while the Gold medal was
being placed around her neck.
In software delivery, the end result can be “ethereal” until it
is finally realized.
Have your team members picture what the completed
project will look like and how completing the mission will
This will give your team members a way to actually “focus”
on the mission and how they can help affect it.
• Don’t be afraid to encourage friendly and appropriate
competition within the organization.
• Promote education, awareness, and ownership in order to
achieve effective specialization.
• Provide your team members with relevant, attainable
goals and make them real.
• Work to ensure all team members recognize the value in
their role and others’ roles.