What the World Cup and Agile Development Have in Common


Catalyst IT Services uses a big data approach to team assembly, similar to the approach taken by Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics illustrated in the book and movie Moneyball. By applying big data to the hiring and team assembly processes, we are able to evaluate very large numbers of individuals and dramatically reduce subjectivity. The evaluation process collects a large amount of data on developers, including background, metadata, public data, and more.

Thousands of variables are collected during this process and are compared with success and outcome metrics. These include velocity, defect rates, rates of ramp-up, and variations in throughput to predict success. By matching and teaming developers based on objective data, you can optimize team performance from the very first sprint.


The World Cup is all about consistency. Once teams have ramped up to peak performance, they must maintain that highest level of play for an entire month. Even the slightest dip in output or a lack of focus can eliminate them from the tournament.

Just look at Mexico’s eight-minute breakdown against The Netherlands. Mexico stuck to its game plan and played a brilliant game for eighty-eight minutes. But they team couldn’t sustain this level of play, made several strategic and tactical errors, and conceded two goals in eight minutes, losing the game 2-1.

For agile teams, the Agile Manifesto defines consistency as “sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

The energy and effort that goes into each sprint should be well established and predictable, and each team member should be contributing. Consistency allows projects to be delivered on time and in scope, without having to go into “stoppage time.”

Measurement throughout the project will help achieve this. Establish metrics and report on them for every sprint. If results are not as expected, you can make changes before the project is derailed and delivery delayed. For example, it may benefit the team and improve velocity if defects are addressed the day they are discovered; or perhaps team members are operating in isolation. In some cases, as with World Cup teams, the starting team members may even need to be changed. The important aspect to remember is that metrics should be established and measured to ensure expectations of quality are being met and a usable product is consistently being delivered.

Game Plan

Any good World Cup side is led by a coach who sets a clear strategic and tactical game plan and then steps back and allows the carefully selected players to execute on the field given the dynamics of the evolving game.

Likewise, successful agile teams rely on a key sponsor, often an IT or line-of-business owner, to establish and communicate both the business and technical goals of the project. This game plan helps agile teams better understand how end-users will interact with the finished product and provides direction for “done” criteria.

And, just as the game plan changes based on your opponent in the World Cup, so too does your game plan change with each sprint. Team members should know user stories that are to be addressed in each sprint and be able to deliver consistent points sprint after sprint. The coach should still be part of the project but should empower team members with the autonomy to direct the project as needed, as long as the end product meets quality, value, and time benchmarks.

What other parallels can you draw between the World Cup and agile development?

About the author

Michael Rosenbaum's picture Michael Rosenbaum

Michael Rosenbaum is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst IT Services.  Catalyst IT Services is disrupting the agile application services outsourcing market by delivering onshore services for differentiation and innovation work at costs equivalent to sending that work offshore.  By applying big data to team assembly, Catalyst delivers applications services at 3x the productivity, half the defect rates, and fractions of the cost as compared to offshore and other onshore providers.  Catalyst has been recognized as a 2013 Cool Vendor by Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company, and is covered by Gartner and other leading analyst firms as a leader in onshoring, agile, and mobile.  Media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CIO, ComputerWorld, ZDNet, and eWeek have written about Catalyst’s use of big data to transform the application services outsourcing space.

Mike also oversees Catalyst’s sister company, Pegged Software.  Pegged applies big data to team assembly in the healthcare industry, and in doing so reduces employee turnover in hospitals and long term care facilities by 45%-77%.  The savings generated by these turnover reductions are 20 times the cost of Pegged, and improve patient satisfaction scores and outcomes, all critical to the evolving needs of healthcare institutions in the world of healthcare reform.  This year Pegged will process over 3 million job applications for hospitals and systems including Loma Linda, Adventist Healthcare, LifeBridge Health, Metroplex, and Glendale.

Prior to starting Catalyst and Pegged, Mike received an Irving R. Kaufman Fellowship to support building the technology that allows Catalyst to apply big data to solve the problem of application services outsourcing inefficiency. Prior to that, he spent two years conducting research and writing on law and economics as a John M. Olin Fellow at Harvard University and teaching in the economics department there.  In addition, he has worked for the White House on technology and telecommunications as well as urban and rural issues, the U.S. Department of State on trade and the region of the former Soviet Union, and the consulting and accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand on privatization in the Russian Federation. He clerked for the Honorable Diana Gribbon Motz, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, from 1999-2000.

Mike has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.Sc. in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a B.A. from Harvard College.

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