In my continuing effort to add to the cluttered world of sports analogies in business conversations, today’s post covers a rather sensitive topic to this Tom Brady fan. You want your quarterback to get sacked once in a while.
In American Football, the quarterback is the key to the offensive drive. He receives the ball at the start of the play, and must be protected from the defenders until he makes a handoff or pass. When the defenders reach the quarterback before his play, he’s “sacked” and the offensive drive loses yardage. So, a team dedicates a certain percentage of its offensive players to protecting their quarterback each play. You’ll hear glowing praise about those players when the quarterback goes an entire game (or a stretch of games) without being sacked.
So, if it’s good to be rarely sacked, it must be even better to be never sacked, right? No.
Here’s why. I can design an offensive plan which protects the quarterback at all costs. He’ll never get sacked, but the team will never progress up the field either. All players will protect the quarterback, and nobody will score points.
Clearly that’s a bad plan. You need some receivers out there to catch balls, you need some blockers creating running routes, and so on. How many? How do you know if you’re too conservative, or taking too many risks? If your quarterback never gets sacked, you’ll never know. Maybe instead of scoring 6 points, you could have scored 14. At the cost of a couple sacks, maybe you could win a couple more games. And that’s a deal most teams would be willing to make.
The lesson for us ought to be obvious. If you commit all your resources to one goal (and achieve it gloriously) you’ll never know whether you could have committed fewer resources and still reached an acceptable result (and been able to achieve other goals). Would you rather ship bug-free software that takes 24 months to develop, or 4 versions of somewhat-buggy software that each take 6 months to develop? I know what I’d do.
Sure. Sometimes the bug you let slip through ruins your product. And sometimes your quarterback gets hurt and your season is ruined. Managing those risks intelligently yet aggressively (and with a dash of luck) separates out the winning competitors.
(Note that obviously different products require different standards in this area. Being first-to-market with buggy air traffic control software probably won’t win you any friends, for example….)