I was in Croatia on the Sunday of the finals. And oh boy Croatians knew how to celebrate. To me it seemed like they won!
Yeah. You guessed it. It was the end of the Football World Cup in Russia. 64 games played by countries from all over the World competing for the the biggest prize in football. France were finally crowned the winners. During the tournament there were many spectacular goals and more than a few surprises along the way. Big names such as Germany headed home early and many of the other teams did not perform as well as expected. The group stages were filled with excitement and the last round of games saw teams playing their games simultaneously, which led to some tense moments for teams such as Argentina who barely squeezed through to the play off stage.
But there was one game in the group stage that really caught my attention. It was the final game in Group G between Belgium and England. Both sides teams had already qualified and were joint top of the group having won all their games, they were level on points and level on goal difference. It was the only group to finish this way. While this was an interesting situation in itself, there was one other critical factor. The results from most of the other groups had meant that the winner of Group G would go into the half of the draw that contained some of the biggest names in world football – Brazil, Portugal, Argentina and France while the 2nd place team would find a much easier route to the final with teams like Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Columbia.
The managers of both England and Belgium were faced with a dilemma. Win the game and go into the tougher side of the draw with the greater risk of going home early or play to lose the game and go through to the easier side of the draw and maybe even go all the way.
While we can assume that both teams were never going to deliberately lose the game, the choices of both managers would become interesting. Both Roberto Maritinez and Gareth Southgate decided to rest their key players and give an opportunity to some of the other squad members to experience the World Cup. Southgate decided to rest 8 of his players and even after Belgium scored he decided to keep star players like Harry Kane on the bench, preferring to keep him out of harms way, while at the same time giving game time to other players. In the end, Belgium won the game and both teams went on to meet in the bronze medal game. But the decisions they made were interesting.
So if we were to take the World Cup as a software project, what could it tell us? Well, Gareth Southgate was faced with a decision before the Belgium game. The situation rarely comes along in a tournament where you have a game that is almost a friendly. Faced with the prospect of having already qualified, both teams chose to rest key players and give others a chance. In fact they were testing. Testing their team, testing their processes to see how they would perform in different circumstances. They had the chance to do this at a point before things went critical, where every game could be their last. The pressure that comes as a team gets closer to the final increases and the willingness to rely on tested systems is greater than the desire to take risks. So this opportunity to test was taken with the bigger picture in mind. The result was irrelevant and while England ended up in the easier side of the draw, they were able to rest key players while also getting the extra knowledge from testing players they may not have risked had the situation been different.
So if you get an opportunity to test your software early while the risks are lower, would you take the shot and learn more? Or would you take the risk and move on with the things you think you know?
Of course the question was biased and the answer is obvious. But now that we know:
Could you infact create opportunities like that deliberately?