People over process: What can we learn from successful underdogs

Yesterday, the Zambian (Chipolopolo) football team defeated the Ivorian (Elephants) football team in the African Cup of Nations final.  This was just another sporting event conducted in the last twelve months where the underdog defeated the highly favored team (the Elephants were favored by most if not all pundits) in competition.  Last Sunday, the New York “football” Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Superbowl and we saw the Dallas Mavericks defeat the Miami Heat in the NBA finals and the Japanese women’s football team defeat the US women’s team at the women’s World Cup in 2011.

In all these cases, its easy to point to X’s and O’s as the explanation for how the underdogs were able to pull off these upsets.  The normal rhetoric around the “game plan” being superb and well thought out is what we general hear from analysts.  I don’t consider this to be wrong.  The Zambian team had a well thought out game plan and their coach, Herve Renard, deserves a lot of credit for their success today.  They kept the Ivorian’s honest by going right at them and not sitting back like other teams had done throughout the tournament.  Their counterattacking play was superb and they were not overrun in the midfield as many of us thought they would be.

However, we should not forget that we need people to actually execute a “perfect” game plan.  Okay, let’s not kid ourselves, no game plan is perfect, so we need people who can make adjustment when our perfect plans fall short. The Japanese woman’s team was behind twice in their game with the US, yet found it within themselves to come back and ultimately win the game in a penalty shootout.

In product development, we strive to come up with methods (game plans essentially) that are intended to put us in a position of winning.  It is critical that we have players who can execute the game plan but in addition to that, are capable of making adjustments when our “perfect” game plans don’t necessarily go according to plan.  While we need to celebrate our game plans, we should celebrate the folks who executed it more.

People over process.


4 Replies to “People over process: What can we learn from successful underdogs”

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