I recently got to chat with a friend, who coaches an American football team and the discussion drifted towards player coaches and QBs calling the plays. One of the reasons I prefer football to other sports is the impact play calling makes on the game. Since each snap is prefaced with a pause and reset, it gives the coach (or assistant coach) the opportunity to decide on what type of play will be made. This needs to take into account field position, down, time on clock, score, as well as the strength and weaknesses of your team and the opponents.
When there is a strong sense of trust between the coach and the team quarterback, the coach may cede this duty to the QB – he’s on the field, he’s the one that needs to execute. In some teams, the coach will also be the player – this is not unlikely for a new formed amateur or semi-amateur team where on person organizes the team, coaches it, but still wants to get in on the action.
So, what are the problems with this approach? First is the ability to see the whole situation. When on the field, vision is limited (on the sidelines, you can move over – look at the offense, the defense, your charts) and time is scarce (focus on the play, no time to talk). The other – more subtle – is that you are inherently biased. Sacked in the QB role? Maybe you’ll want to run the ball, to avoid getting hit. This will affect your decisions and thus the plays – optimizing (locally) for yourself, not for the team (globally).
So how does this feed into Agile? For one, it shows why an external facilitator, coach or Scrum Master is useful to the Team – they’re not in the thick of things, they are more divorced from the emotions. It also shows why a good Product Owner – one that is aware of the greater product vision (time lines, business environment, but also team’s strength and weaknesses) plays a critical role.