This is the second in a series of blog articles I’m writing on how Moneyball (the movie) embodies powerful lessons for all of us seeking to innovate and transform today’s Agile collaboration models for how we conceive, build, and deliver new software and services to customers. The results are bound to produce extraordinary outcomes for all.
In my first Moneyball Lesson I discussed how Billy Beanes (the Oakland A’s General manager) skillfully refused to let the lack of money drive him to acquire lower-priced baseball “stars” who were in decline and instead use unconventional data driven models for identifying undervalued talent. In doing so he created a unique model for fielding teams that changed the entire industry. Today, I want to explore what Billy taught us about securing the commitment of others to change how work gets done.
Sadly, for many companies today, Agile is in the trough of disillusionment. Why? Simple — the support needed to foster success from Agile practices requires deep, engaged cooperation to work differently across a number of enterprise departmental silos. For those familiar with Moneyball, Billy Beanes found himself in exactly the same situation during the 2002 rebuilding season. What Billy did to power through this circumstance should be instructive to all of us in similar circumstances guiding Agile change initiatives.
Let’s recap Billy’s situation. Billy had decided to pursue an unconventional approach to staffing a baseball team that allowed him to construct (on paper) a team composed of players with attributes that didn’t fit the “conventional thinking” of the baseball world. Sound familiar? This is where Billy’s own disillusionment sets in. While Billy had the authority to recruit any player he wished (within the constraints of his severe budget shortfall) the decision as to which players would play and which position they would fill on game day was entirely up to the coach’s discretion.
Despite continuous attempts to persuade the Oakland coach to deploy the team Billy had envisioned when he employed his unconventional model, the coach refused. In many ways, the Oakland A’s baseball coach is a metaphor for the culture and behavior of middle management today in numerous corporations. I’ll write about this in a subsequent blog post.
After just eight weeks into the new season things look bleak for the A’s. The coach refused to play Billy’s new roster and the results were horrific. The A’s were coming in dead last and became the laughing stock of the league. Despite these circumstances the coach made it clear that “under his watch” he would refuse to deploy a team into an “unproven” configuration. Why? Job security. That’s right– in a perverse way, the coach felt that if he was going to suffer many losses this season, he’d rather do so using conventional approaches with clearly inferior talent, than deploy an unproven model. The coach believed that if he had to seek employment with another team that they would forgive his losses so long as his actions as coach “fit the mold” of current “best practices”.
It seems as though Billy was entrenched in an impossible situation, right? What would you do? What Billy did next was the only thing he could do – he demonstrated his commitment to the values embodied in his unconventional approach by going “all in”– essentially a burn the ships strategy. Billy took what authority he did have and used it to execute a series of mid-season trades. These trades resulted in a roster change that gave the coach no choice but to field the team in a configuration consistent with Billy’s model. These trades also sent a VERY strong message to the entire organization. Namely, that Billy was not going to be ignored and that he would, at great personal risk, do whatever was required to allow the new team model an opportunity to prove itself.
Money Ball Lesson #2:
“Change Isn’t Free… it Requires Vision, Action, and Personal Risk”
So, how did Billy’s story turnout you ask? Pretty good I’d say… A miracle season that forever changed the way baseball works. A big outcome? You bet. A big risk? Absolutely. A crazy decision by Billy? No way. You see, Billy knew that while the team would have survived to play another season, his opportunity to prove his vision and change the outcome of that season required bold action at potentially great personal cost. Billy demonstrated his values by going all in.
Billy’s story is essentially one of a leader recognizing their role as a “designer”, NOT manager. Billy’s epiphany was that his job was not picking great players, but rather, designing a system for how a team’s collective whole could be optimized for winning championships. Billy’s story should serve as an inspiration to all of us with an opportunity to influence corporate software innovation, collaboration, and execution practices.
I’m not yet done unpacking the many transformational lessons of Moneyball, so stay tuned!