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Moneyball and Agile

25 March 2014

Gary Martinez
Innovative Agile LLC

Implementing an Agile method into your technology department can sometimes be a difficult task. Not because it is hard to implement, but because it is not always easy to get management buy-in for the change. If your company is one that typically resists change, you may feel more optimistic after watching the 2011 film Moneyball.

The storyline concerns a general manager for the Oakland A's, Billy Beane, who consistently had a losing team. His budget constraints wouldn't allow him to spend more money on the best players in the league, so he had to "think differently." Ultimately he used statistical data to analyze players in the league and buy valuable, winning players who were passed up by the larger teams. However, this new method was highly criticized and the baseball community resisted the change.

John Henry, Red Sox owner, references what Billy Beane did with the Oakland A's, saying, "I know you've taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall, he always gets bloody, always. It's the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds it's threatening the game. But really what it's threatening is their livelihoods, it's threatening their jobs, it's threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it's the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people that are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch, they go bat-shit crazy!"

Your management team may feel as though Agile threatens their "game." Common resistant factors for management are the sense of losing control and not having a say regarding feature changes or priorities. This happens when they really do not understand what Agile is or what it can do for them.

It is your job to present the benefits of Agile. Help management understand the transparency and improved quality they will gain. Note advantages of Agile, such as daily progress reviews and examination of the product at the end of each iteration. Above all, note that software developers are always concentrated on the highest-priority tasks.

At the end of the day ask yourself, "Why not?" In the case of the Oakland A's, they already had a losing team, so why not try this new method to improve quality and efficiency with the resources they already had? There must be a reason you're considering Agile. Whether it be failed or buggy products, costly and time-consuming projects, or just the need to stay ahead of the competition, something isn't working now.

Billy Beane changed the way things were being done because he had to. Most players, managers, fans, and sportscasters fought his approach. However, his implementation of the new method succeeded. Once you implement Agile methods, your critics will be the most impressed with the success. You will leave everyone asking, "Why didn't we do this sooner?"

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Eric King, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/25/2014 7:29:38 AM
Hello Gary,

Well written! I really liked what you wrote above about being the first person through the wall. It's very appropriate and very fitting for any organizational structure that is considering a move toward Agility. Thank you again for sharing.
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 3/27/2014 6:16:35 PM
Although I appreciate there's often an element of "sticking your neck out", your presentation of the results is maybe a bit too optimistic; it is very likely that performance takes a nose-dive when a team moves to an agile framework, so I think it's worth prep'ing the business for that and, as David J. Anderson was saying recently, establishing the execs' willingness to suffer further before improvements are seen. Otherwise, when results don't come quick enough, the plug may be pulled leaving the company in an even worse situation than you found them.

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