4 key lessons business professionals can learn from the all-conquering All Blacks

Ben Smith of the NZ All Blacks scores a try. Photo: Getty Images

With the Rugby World Cup on in England, it got me thinking about the nature of sustained success at the highest level and what we can learn from elite sport.

The pre-tournament favourites, New Zealand’s All Blacks, have been at the pinnacle of rugby union for so long that they can reasonably lay claim to being one of the best sporting teams in the world.

This is despite the immense disruptions brought about by professionalisation, rule changes, and the economic hegemony of the sport enjoyed by England and France (both nations dwarf New Zealand in terms of player numbers and financial resources).

Whatever the prevailing conditions or fashions have been in the sport, the All Blacks have adapted and dominated. Another aspect of successful sporting teams, and one clearly demonstrated by the Kiwis, is the ability to adapt to a critical situation unfolding before them – tweaking tactics or switching styles in real time to counter the competition’s approach.

Sure, everyone wants to be able to make the right decisions under pressure but not everyone does it well. So what relevance does it have for us?

Well, in today’s application economy there are clear parallels and lessons we can learn from sporting success.

We are currently seeing widespread disruption in the IT sector – enterprises are under more pressure than ever to deliver innovative applications at a faster speed, while ensuring the highest quality. Business is literally being rewritten by software.

As a result, software development decisions are often being played out in real time and consumer reactions to poor deployments can be unforgiving, potentially ceding advantage to competitors. This was highlighted in a recent study commissioned by CA Technologies, which found 67 per cent of Australian consumers, who left a brand because of poor application load times, said that a loading time of six or more seconds was not acceptable.

Anyone working in the DevOps field understands the pressure to identify a problem, evaluate the best option to fix it, and deploy it in the shortest period possible to maintain their organisation’s brand integrity with their customers.

How do we ensure we get more of these crucial decisions right?

Gain total buy-in into the philosophy

A successful sporting team needs every player to be playing to the same game plan and committed to the coaches’ vision. This is true too for success in an enterprise – you need your team totally committed to the direction. For CIOs and IT leaders, this often means demonstrating the business case behind your strategy.

We have seen enough research to know the scale of the benefits enjoyed by firms that have the mindset required to win in the application economy, but we know it can take time to make the changes felt. Cultural change always takes time and habits built up over many years won’t disappear overnight. A top-down commitment to new ways of working, combined with grass-roots willingness to adopt new approaches is needed.

Understand the pressure points

Effective teams spend as much time addressing their weaknesses as they do on playing to their strengths. To understand where the pressure comes in the DevOps system, clear roles and responsibilities need to be allocated. Team members should understand how their role interacts with, and affects, others, and thus be able to identify and reduce areas of friction.

CA Technologies identified nine primary ‘personas’ of DevOps when launching its Agile Operations toolkit recently. These personas provide a taxonomy of the usual pressure points felt by developers and engineers. Those who ‘fight fires’, such as application developers and application performance managers, want to know instantly what changes trigger problems.

Those whose role it is to reactively improve the applications need help to understand application performance characteristics quickly with simplified alerts, and streamlined communications.

Getting the right tools to address these needs is a critical factor in achieving success. Which brings us nicely to the role of modern software and digital channels.

Embrace change and new technology

The best sports teams understand that every small edge you can gain over the competition can translate into winning, and this is why such sports teams as the All Blacks have been among the first organisations to fully adopt Big Data analytics. Sophisticated software platforms are being used to combine performance and environmental data with training optimisation systems to improve performance and predict and manage injuries before they occur. The application economy demands that enterprises embrace change and cutting edge technology to adapt in a timely manner. This includes cloud-based automation software, API management tools and security solutions.

Successful IT professionals also need to have a high emphasis on emerging digital channels, and be confident in exploring new areas that can deliver value.

The digital disruptors

Enterprises with teams that can combine these factors with enlightened allocation of resources to fund the right investments will see the most benefits. The good news is that we are seeing such an approach grow within the sector. In a forthcoming report CA Technologies will talk about the emergence of ‘digital disruptors’ – a section of IT professionals effecting a high degree of digital transformation within their organisations.

Like the coaches, analysts and support staff behind the first team, we see our role as helping digital disruptors do what they do best – provide modern software development and delivery processes through our solutions.

As the sporting world proves again and again, victory can come down to the finest of margins – and, as in the competitive sporting world, enterprises just can’t afford to leave their long-term success to chance.

This post was composed by Giuliano Lot, director solution sales, CA Technologies Australia and New Zealand. You can find Giuliano on Twitter and LinkedIn.