I’m a big football fan, but this year has been a painful disappointment for me.  The Tennessee Titans have been decimated by injuries and won’t win at least 11 games for only the second time in the last six years.  The playoffs have usually been a given, but this season they’ll be watching from the sidelines.  The interesting thing to note is while some of the injuries have been high-profile, the injured stars have had solid backups.  While they aren’t nearly capable of doing what the stars were doing, they still held their own.  But the Titans keep losing.  Why?  I think this past Sunday summed it up.  The Titans trailed 24-21 in the 4th quarter.  Last year’s MVP Steve McNair (in the game despite his injury) drove the Titans down inside the Houston15-yard line and was looking to put it in the end zone for the lead.  Even if they didn’t get the touchdown, it would’ve been an easy field goal. On 3rd down, Fred Miller, the offensive tackle playing despite a severely injured ankle, completely missed blocking a defensive end rushing the quarterback.  His lack of mobility cost him and the defensive end got to McNair unabated and knocked the football out of a surprised McNair’s hands.  Miller was in position to jump on the ball , but his lack of mobility limited his agility and by the time he was able to make a move for the ball, the Texans recovered and the Titans forfeited their chance to tie the game.  The complexion of the game changed, the momentum shifted, and the Titans were never able to recover.

 

What’s the moral here (does there always have to be a moral :->)?  The Titans were missing their star running back, had an unhealthy quarterback, most of their top defensive weapons were on injured reserve, and yet they were still in a position to stay competitive.  But the game changed because of the failure of a guy who plays a position you never hear about—offensive line.  I’m not trying to blame Fred Miller.  It’s a miracle he was playing and he only did so because three of his fellow linemen were unable to play and the Titans were running out of players.  Instead, I am trying to point out how important his contribution is.  You may never hear about him and he won’t win MVP trophies, but if he fails to do his job just once, the team loses.  They always say winning is about doing all the little things right and I think that extends beyond sports.  It’s amazing how there are things in this world that we rely heavily on, but never notice them until they fail.  The power company (think recent east coast blackout).  Umpires (think Game 6 of the 1985 World Series).  Airport Security (think 9/11)…

 

Businesses work the same way, both in a micro and macro level.  In software development, a quality test team and things like documentation fall into the anonymous categories while the star developers and architects shine in the spotlight.  Frankly, they should shine—it’s a high bar to be a lead dev or an architect and they are most responsible for what the final product looks like.  But if you don’t have good test + docs, you are in trouble no matter how good a job the stars do.  From a corporate perspective at a company like Microsoft, I think the people who develop the products are king and groups like patterns & practices are secondary.  We don’t get much of the glory and we pale in comparison to the Windows and SQLs of the world.  Is that wrong?  No.  What we do is very important to the overall success of Microsoft’s enterprise strategy and I am proud of our role.  As the marketing dude, I confess I get a little jealous of the attention given to Whidbey or Indigo (“hey, we’re helping you today!”).  But I am also terribly excited about those products coming out and look forward to providing support for them.  Hopefully, they recognize that we should be an important part of their strategy for adoption (and I think many of them are starting to recognize).

 

Now, there are two lessons in this.  The first is that it’s not about the external recognition as much as the internal acknowledgement that a quality product alone doesn’t mean success.  In football, running backs and quarterbacks are always giving credit to their anonymous offensive line and understand that, without a good one, they will be in a lot of pain from all the hits.  Even if these guys aren’t given trophies, their needs to be some recognition of their contribution.  In college football, every big play from a lineman results in a sticker that is placed on a helmet.  It may sound like 3rd grade, but lineman wear those stickers like badges of honor and a reminder to the stars that each sticker represents a time when they saved someone’s hide.  In the pros, many quarterbacks or running backs buy their lineman Rolexes. The point is that while the external praise may not always be there, but the internal respect is.  (For the record, if anyone over in Visual Studio wants to buy me a Rolex, I am cool with that.)

 

The other lesson is for the “anonymous” contributor:  don’t get jealous and lose your focus.  You need to understand the importance of their role and not try to be something their not.  Fred Miller is 6’5” and 300+ pounds.  It would be downright embarrassing to watch him try to play quarterback.  He is skilled at blocking defenders and giving Steve McNair room to throw touchdown passes.  You need to stick to what you are good at.  I get worried when people start thinking patterns & practices is a product group—we are not.  We are just trying to help the Windows Server System platform realize its potential (to steal a MS tagline).  To quote DuPont’s slogan from a few years back, “We don’t make the products you buy, we make the products you buy better.”  There's a ton of honor in that.  We are not better than the product groups and we are not competing with the product groups.  We are at our best when we are finding ways of making their stuff cooler or easier.  I hope we and our customers never lose sight of that…

 

{Dave Matthews Band- Busted Stuff}