Is Andy Farrell & His Coaching Team Using Agile Ways of Working to Help Win the Rugby World Cup?

The original goal of agility? Teams operating optimally in ambiguous, challenging & changing environments. Continuously build working software early, often & regularly for review & feedback. To achieve that goal, teams develop into lean, resilient & highly adaptive outfits. Agile Coaches focus teams on 4 key areas:

1.   Multi-skilled, full stack skillsets.
2.   Adapt & Learn. Always chasing lean.
3.   Goals focused, but only next moment matters.
4.   Calmness in chaos.

Let’s look at each area from the perspective of the Irish Rugby Team:

Great agile teams are adaptive. Rockstars’ replaced with multi-skilled team players swarming on team problems. In rugby, forwards are strong & durable, backs, nimble & fast. Forwards win matches, backs by how much. Elite sports is about top inches. Knowing this, did Farrell’s team challenge those roles? Are we achieving maximum value from each player & their role? Take Wingers. Shivering & hogging touchlines waiting for the ball. Effective, but Farrell’s coaching team further maximised that role by upskilling the player. Asking him to perform additional duties. Our wingers now make booming clearance kicks, come infield looking for work, steal ball at the ruck. Even lift Eben Etzebeth off the ground & affect a maul & turnover. Take a bow James Lowe 😀

Teams cannot be agile if they are not lean. If processes are heavy & cumbersome, teams slow down. Teams need reflection to ensure they are improving. At the 2019 World Cup, Japan’s incredible ruck speed beat Ireland. Fast forward to 2023, did Farrell inspect what was slowing the team down & adapt accordingly? Ireland now has the fastest ruck speed in the competition. Averaging 2.92 seconds, too hot for South Africa. Too hot for everyone hopefully.

Great agile teams set goals with Roadmaps & OKRs. They commit by breaking them into Epics, Stories, 3 month Releases, 2 week sprints & ultimately Daily Tasks discussed in Standups. Weight of expectation is heavy for Ireland teams. World Number 1? fleeting, Grand Slams? hen’s teeth, winning in NZ, unicorn chasing, getting past the 1/4 finals…Shush!! Did Farrell recognise that seemingly impossibly big goals are north stars & not goals. Setting smaller achievable goals helps teams believe & commit. How do you boil the ocean? one kettleful at a time. How do you win the world cup, one game, one moment at a time.

Calmness in chaos. Great agile teams are resilient. They don’t want change but they expect it. When it happens, they adapt. Despite losing 6 of 18 lineout throws (4 in the first 10 min), that resilience beat SA. Problem solving on field amidst the chaos. The ultimate sign of a great agile team.

Are Farrell’s men the ultimate expression of agility? Multiskilled, resilient, goal focused, calm in chaos. A blueprint to win the world cup? we’ll see. Definitely a blueprint for budding agile teams everywhere?

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