Monday, April 16, 2012

Agile and Scrum - The "Moneyball" of Software Development

I finally found time to watch the 2011 movie, Moneyball, on television tonight.  It was nominated for awards and it was quite good.  It is a true story about major league baseball (Oakland Athletics) general manager Billy Beane and the 2002 baseball season.  I related the movie to both my own experiences in professional baseball where I was an umpire for 10 years in the 1980s and early 90s and my experiences over the last 8 years with agile software development. Beane was actually a player for the Athletics in 1989 when I umpired professionally and I knew him as a player.

Beane has a big problem after the 2001 baseball season: his baseball club has no money to buy big name players and, in fact, has lost 3 of its most productive and popular players to other teams via free agency.  Beane has to do things radically differently to have a reasonable chance of success in the next season and he knows he cannot pay for top talent.  Of course, he is the single wringable neck as he is expected to produce quality product fast (this probably resonates with anyone who develops software products) in the manner of winning enough games to be a contender for the World Series.

In his quest, Beane learns of the use of a radically new method to analyze player performance called sabermetrics and recruits an analyst, 25 y/o Peter Brand (the real life person was Paul DePodesta, who had a degree in Economics from Harvard and worked for the Cleveland Indians before Beane hired him away to work for him) who works for the Cleveland Indians and has a degree in economics from prestigious Yale University.  Peter knows nothing about playing baseball, but he knows a great deal about this new data analysis process that was created by a security guard at a pork and beans factory, Bill James, who had an affinity for baseball statistics.  Sabermetrics, coincidentally enough, has its own manifesto:

Beane hires the Peter away from the Indians to the A's and together they build a team of players who have really solid performance statistics in categories that all other teams ignored.  It was thinking "way outside of the box" and it brought wrath to both of them from inside and outside the Athletic organization.  They were accused of ignoring the traditions of baseball, the "proven success" of the old ways, and being dangers and threats to people's jobs and even to the integrity of the game (this may also resonate with people who have brought agile into an org.)

Beane and Peter bring has been and no-name players onto the Oakland team and the field manager and others in the organization are incredulous about what they view as the total insanity of the strategy. The team gets off to a slow start and then Beane makes some major changes in players through trades to change the team chemistry.  The team begins to perform as Beane and Peter anticipated and, in fact, wins 20 games in a row - a record.  Ultimately, the team is beaten in the post-season playoffs, but it finished the regular season with 103 wins against 59 losses, tied with the New York Yankees for best won/loss records in baseball that year.  The difference: the Yankees had a player payroll of $126,000,000 and the Athletics had a payroll of $41,000,000.  It cost the Yankees $1.22 million per win and the A's $400,000 per win.

There are a number of areas in the movie where a person with agile experience in a traditional organization can relate to the reactions people have towards Beane and his "whacky" ideas and the angst they exhibit. One telling moment is at the end of the movie where Beane meets with the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, and Henry says to Beane:

I know you've taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy hrough the wall always gets bloody, always. It's he threat and just not the way of doing business. 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 they do things. And every time that happens, whether it's the government or a way of doing business or whatever, the people who are holding the reins and have their hands on the switch will bet you're crazy.  But, anybody who's not building a team right or rebuilding it using your model will find that they are dinosaurs. They'll be sitting on the sofa in October, watching my Boston Red Sox win the World Series.
When I heard that, I thought Henry could have been talking about nearly anyone who has brought agile and agile ways into the work place!!  Indeed, the Boston Red Sox have used Beane’s methods (and they have more money in their budget for payroll) and won the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918 and won it again in 2007.  Beane turned down a contract offer from Henry of $12.5 million to become the general manager of the Red Sox and remained with the Athletics and they continue to win.

I could relate to the various emotions and tribulations that Beane endured.  Baseball is a ruthless game and I saw, experienced and endured the familiar brutal events I saw in the movie (including a phone call that I was no longer going to be retained as an umpire.) I’ve never experienced similar vicious actions or consequences in bringing agile into the company I work for, but I’ve tolerated lots of hostility. ambivalence, and skepticism there.  Resilience is a good trait to have in those circumstances.

Howeve, the metaphor here isn't about the money and not about failing to win the World Series (the A's still have not won a World Series since Beane became GM), but how Beane thought and acted completely differently from the traditional mantras in baseball.  I can imagine that Scrum co-creator Ken Schwaber felt a lot like Beane did when he first entered organizations during the infancy of Scrum to introduce and advocate for its use (and I bet others have likely felt similarly when introducing and incubating Scrum and agile in orgs, but Schwaber talked in pretty extensive detail with me about his experiences and we often talked baseball metaphors since he really enjoyed the baseball stories I shared with him.)   

One thing that became apparent to me is that Beane acted very much like a Product Owner.  He wasn't the owner of the club (Steve Schott was), but he was responsible for delivering a valuable product.  His backlog was comprised of players and he was constantly evaluating and prioritizing them based upon ROI (even sabremetrics delves into this.)  He even got rid of some of them to improve the overall performance of his product (the team.)

Also, In many ways, Art Howe, the A's field manager, acted like a project manager and impeded Beane. When Beane tells Howe to play another player at first base (who reaches 1st base 20% more often than the player Howe starts), Howe says bluntly: "I disagree with you,  plain and simple. And moreover, I'm playing my team in a way that I can explain in job interviews next winter."  Like many PMs, Howe was looking beyond his current project and was willing to do whatever it took to preserve his stature and reputation among managers.  The situation between the two of them climaxes with this scene:

Beane:        Art, you got a minute?
Howe:        Yeah. Take a seat.
Beane:        You can't start Peña at first tonight. You'll have to start Hatteberg.
Howe:         I don't want to go fifteen rounds, Billy. The lineup card is mine, and that's all.
Beane:        That lineup card is definitely yours, Art. I'm just saying you can't start Peña at first.
Howe:        Well, I am starting him at first.
Beane:        I don't think so. He plays for Detroit now.
Howe:        You *traded* Peña?
Beane:        Yeah. And Menechino, Hiljus, Tam are all being sent down.
Howe:        You are outside your mind.
Beane:        Yeah. Cuckoo.

That's basically what I was called when I first used Scrum in my little company.  I ran into Art Howes in my org. And into Grady Fuson, the traditionalist scout that Beane fired after a very funny exchange that struck right at the core of the baseball I knew (and those who defended the status quo in my org.)  We are often no better at predicting the success of a project than baseball scouts are at predicting the success of a prospect and doing things the "old way" simply perpetuated the insanity:

Fuson:    Now you're gonna declare war on the whole system.
Beane:   Okay! Okay. My turn. You don't have a crystal ball. You can't look at a kid and predict his future any more than I can. I've sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents 'When I know, I know!  And when it comes to your son, I know'.  And you don't. You don't know!
Fuson:    Okay, I don't give a sh** about our friendship, this situation, or the past. Major League Baseball thinks the way I think. You're not gonna win. And I'll give you a nickel's worth of free advice. You're never gonna get another job when Schott fires you after this catastrophic season you're about to set us all up for. And you're gonna have to explain to your kid why you work at a Dick's Sporting Goods.
Beane:    I'm not gonna fire you, Grady. [Grady puts his hand on Billy's shoulder and Billy pushes it off]
Fuson:    F*** you, Billy!
Beane:   Now I will.

By the way, the 2012 opening day team payroll for the Yankees (#1 in MLB): $198 million.  A's 2012 opening day team payroll (#31 of 32 teams and just ahead of San Diego by $130k): $55.4 million.  Billy Beane is now a minority owner in the ball club.
In my future CSM classes, I’m going to suggest that class attendees watch the movie and read the book.  I will ask them if doing Scrum will challenge the culture and traditional structure of their company.  If so, they might learn a few tricks and lessons from Billy Beane.  As an aside, the Anaheim Angels won the 2002 World Series (beating the Yankees, Twins, and Giants in the postseason.) The Angels payroll was $61.7 million in 2002, right in the middle and the Angels were a "wild card" team finishing  second behind the A's in the West Division.


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