Thanksgiving, Football, and Web Development

Thanksgiving reminds me of many things for which I am grateful. Thanksgiving is a time to count blessings, and a time to use football analogies for software projects. As the stuffing settles, and the games are on, my thoughts naturally turn towards the leadership, the coaching, the training, the practice, the teamwork, and the execution that all contribute to the successful launch of a website.

An interviewer once asked a college football coach, “What is your game plan?” The coach went to his whiteboard, drew some Xs and Os, and a bunch of lines pointing to the end zone, and said “Win the Game!”

That is not an oversimplification if you’re just looking at game day. Game Day is the same as Go-Live Day. All the prep work is done, there’s no more time for training and practice, now it’s time to just “win the game,” make touchdowns, score points. Push the Go-Live button and make it happen.

The prep work, however, is not as simple. Step back a year or so and see what went into it.

In football teams and project teams, a perceptive recruiter had to scout the right skill sets, fill the gaps, get the right people for the team: strong sprinters, agile decision makers, people with deep knowledge of the game, who are perceptive to changes in context, who can shift quickly to changes in the field. You need a lot of different skill sets, and you need the right proportions and complementary expertise to work together for successful outcomes. You evaluate past performance to predict how each member will work in the new team you are assembling. On Game Day and on Go-Live Day you want the pudding to prove you made the right choices.

Team assembled, you create plays, like storyboards. You train. Regardless of experience, your new role on this team demands more learning, more training, more skills. Each individual must grow into the new role, and together, grow into a well-oiled machine. You hold up your end and work together.

Learn the storyboards, the requirements, work the code, the CMS, the design. Team-leads and Quarterbacks ensure each role, route, and routine is clear to each team player. Coaches and PMs ensure handoffs are seamless. Team meetings keep everyone’s mindset focused on the goal. You track forward progress with yard lines and milestones while adapting to setbacks and defects.

Defensive coaches and QA managers try to break the code of each play, exposing weaknesses, forcing steady improvement. Defensive playbooks are basically testplans—each page is a testscript against the offensive playbook.

If playbook or execution has flaws, the defense will intercept the pass. Interceptions, fumbles, backwards movement in timelines/yard lines/milestones, all spotlight issues that need to be addressed. Defects in plan or execution point to “opportunities for improvement.” In order to win, you must identify and seize these opportunities. Meanwhile, offsite you do extra work that advances your effectiveness onsite.

Milestone adjustments and defect-fixes are normal parts of daily practices: workflows, alignment, tip drills, rollouts, slant-rights, float-lefts, and performance testing. Daily practices are the test-site where ongoing development ultimately ensures your best game, your best outcome. Defects are less costly on the test-site. You still have time to improve before the world is watching you face the live game or the live website. But on deadline day, defects cost you in loss of points, loss of game, loss of customer.

Whether your deadline is Game Day or Go-Live Day, you keep getting better so you will be ready. Then on the day, your final instruction can be very simple: “Win the Game!”

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