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March 21, 2024

Lessons from Unexpected Places: How Watching Ted Lasso Makes Us Better at Agile and DevOps

By Anthony Earl ,Jordan Stoner

It happened to us, and we bet it’s happened to you too—you watch a TV show or movie and think about how what you’re watching is similar to what you do for a living. For you, it could be The Office, The Wolf of Wall Street, or Succession. For us, it was Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. For those of you not familiar with the Emmy-winning TV show, Ted Lasso is about a US college football coach hired to coach an English football team, AFC Richmond. To clarify, in the US we call it soccer and in England it’s called football.

We’re both Agile coaches for Lockheed Martin, and the similarities between the show’s lead character, Ted Lasso, and our role as Agile coaches are vast. Below are just a few of the main parallels that apply to us and may also apply to you.

“Smells like potential!” —Ted Lasso

Ted wants the players and program personnel to buy into his mindset. He knows the mentality it takes to win, and we want program personnel to have a growth mindset where they iterate and collaborate faster—both of which deliver value to the Ted Lasso fans and Lockheed Martin customers.

Taking new approaches and seeing the potential in others and in processes are leadership qualities of coaches. We set the vision and then help lead the way. We’ve worked extensively with large cyber-physical programs to implement new systems, and together, we’re making a lot of progress.

“That’d be pretty neat-o!” —Ted Lasso

Ted struggles with learning the British English language as well as soccer lingo. Much of the show’s humor comes from Ted trying to learn the nuance and nomenclature of speaking English in the United Kingdom and translating his American football lingo to soccer.

People learning Agile also have to understand a new language in many ways. Scaled Agile, the large-scale Agile framework we sometimes use at Lockheed Martin, has a glossary of over 100 words, which means we teach a team a new language. When we coach, we ask teams to understand different vocabulary. Fun fact: Anthony is from England, and Jordan is from the United States. Anthony understands what it is like to still speak “English,” but they still may not understand each other completely. Having experienced this first-hand helps us teach new Agile and DevOps terminology and learn the terminology of space exploration.

“If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together!” —Ted Lasso

Ted is upbeat throughout the show despite setbacks and challenges. As we begin to coach new teams, we’ve found it’s important to stay positive. While it’s okay to acknowledge difficulties, it’s helpful if the team and coaches go through them together. This creates a shared sense of camaraderie. It also helps build relationships between the coaches and the team, which is important to help develop trust and understanding.

In the show, Ted develops trust with the team and the club’s management. As coaches, we need to do this as well! We don’t want to just drop in and give our advice and leave. We want to understand the challenges for the team, use the tools in our toolbox to help them, and not just prescribe a “one-size-fits-all” coaching mentality. The more positive we can be, just like Ted, the better relationships we can build and the more effective we can be as coaches.

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” —Fans in the Pub

In the show, the devoted fans at the matches, in the local pub, and even on the streets are far from shy in telling Ted and the team what they think of their performance. Similarly, Agile teams need honest, constructive, professional feedback. The tools we use give teams raw numbers, rather like the league-table statistics published after every soccer game. And, just like how colorful locker-room banter and somewhat explicit crowd chants inform the team of their missteps or successes on Ted Lasso, we also encourage Agile team members to be honest and professional when providing feedback. This feedback is important in encouraging ongoing improvement for sports players, coaches, and our engineering teams.

The Importance of Celebrating

People enjoy a reason to celebrate, and Ted Lasso is an expert at finding reasons to do so. Not only do we remind teams to celebrate their wins every iteration, but we also encourage a quarterly overview and demonstration for their stakeholders to show how much progress is being made due to their day-to-day work. We channel Ted’s enthusiasm and encourage teams to celebrate all small and large wins. We only wish we could dance as well as Ted!

Believe

To inspire his team, Ted Lasso created a “Believe” sign that he would slap, and his teammates soon followed suit. During our coaching, we like to talk about and show teams what an Agile future could look like, asking them to believe in the power of Agile transformations. We know it works, and we’ve seen it be successful many times.

Teaching a team a new process and vocabulary while keeping positive and building relationships? We believe that’s all in a day’s coaching work—for us and Ted Lasso. And, of course, we believe in the transformational power of DevOps and Agile.

What unexpected places have you found DevOps or Agile inspiration?

- About The Authors
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Anthony Earl

Dr. Anthony Earl has 40 years of experience with software engineering environments, software development processes and associated database designs. He is the author of two books and many papers on those topics and the original author of the NIST/ECMA Reference Model for Software Engineering Environments. Since 2013 he has been a SAFe SPC and helped organizations in both making the transition to SAFe and executing within the framework. He joined Lockheed Martin in 2020 and has been involved in both delivering a wide variety of SAFe classes and coaching some major Lockheed Martin programs. He has also presented recently at major Scaled Agile and DevOps conferences.

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Jordan Stoner

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