Coaching commandos, infantry and police

Hylke Stapersma
Nov 27, 2018 · 3 min read

No, I am not actually coaching men/women in uniform. I am referring to an idea that was coined in the book accidental empires by Robert X. Cringley. The idea is that are three types of teams: commandos, infantry and police, they have their own specific way of working and they want to achieve different goals for a business case. When I am coaching IT teams/organisations it is very useful idea/concept to make the coaching become more effective but it is also very useful for teams/organisations to apply to themselves.

As as DevOps/DevEx/Continuous Delivery coach I help teams/organisations to deliver impact and value on a long term basis, meaning IT (technology) is used to make/save money or to be compliant. However these teams/organisations are delivering value/impact in different stages, and in different ways. The three stages that can be identified are: stage to proof a business case, a stage to maximise the profit for a business case and stage where the business case is declining or has plateaued.

Revenue for business over time

Commandos

The stage of proofing a business case is something that is done by commandos. These teams/organisations try to deliver a piece of proof with minimal resources and minimal effort. They will focus on speed and less on stability. When coaching these teams a focus on metrics (evidence gathering, automation around delivery and proofing whether the business case is viable are the main priority.

Typical metrics for these teams/organisations should be cycle time and lead time, but also metrics that can prove or disprove the hypothesis around the experiment. (Business case) Based on these metrics commandos can create the basis where the infantry can expand their position or just stop the project if there is no viable business case.

Infantry

After the business case has been proven to be viable then teams/organisations should grow this business case. This is where the infantry comes into play. A coach should be a focus on helping teams/organisations to achieve growth without slowing down, meaning there should be a balance between speed and stability. Focus on acceleration within in the teams and amplification of positive practices throughout the organisation.

Coaching infantry teams/organisations will be on automation of quality, delivery, security and compliance, on practices like clean code and extreme programming, but also on creating consumable services that can be used to deliver speed at scale throughout the organisation. Metrics like cycle time, lead time are the good indicators for speed and MTTD (mean time to defect) and MTTR (mean time to repair) are the indicators for stability, these metrics will help the coach and the team to focus on the right things. Metrics around the business case should be used for the team/organisation to see where to grow.

Police

In the last stage the business case is declining or has plateaued, this is where the police come into play. Stability is the main concern for these teams/organisations, and most of the effort of these teams goes into reliability instead of new features/requirements. As a coach encountering such a team the value of improving their way of working lies in, ensuring stability with minimal people and resources. (Operating cost reduction)

This means that coaching is focused on financial control, reliability, resilience and metrics like MTTD (mean time to defect) and MTTR (mean time to repair) to indicate stability.

Conclusion

It does not matter as a coach in which stage the team is, if it proving the viability of a business (commandos), it is growing its business case (infantry) or the business case is declining or has plateaued (police). If a team is guided towards the right focus points the team will accelerate and meets it purpose sooner and will have the ability to make evidence based decisions based on metrics.

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