Product Design and Football; Is there a Connection?

An animated Jurgen Klopp
“There are people who say that if you don’t clearly set yourself big goals then you’re not really ambitious — Those people have no idea how to attain goals” — Jurgen Klopp

Although Jurgen Klopp was referring to his football philosophy and training methods, it’s interesting that the same philosophy can be applied to product design and likewise, how philosophies and practices of product design can be applied to football.

My view on goals

Before I continue it’s important to outline that not having big goals doesn’t mean you can’t have a big vision. I believe a vision is what you want to achieve, where you want to be, whereas goals are how you achieve the vision, the steps you take to get there.

The problem with big goals

Big goals are a statement and if successful the end result can be powerful. By setting a big goal you could be taking one giant step towards your vision.

But, what if that giant step is in the wrong direction?

How easy will it be for you to get back on the correct path?

How much time and resource have you wasted?

And how far are you now from your vision?

If you set a small goal and take a small step in the wrong direction:

You’ll learn sooner.

You can react quicker.

You aren’t as far from the correct path.

And you have invested much less time and resource.

If you feel a ‘big’ goal is necessary, try and look for ways you can break it down into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Take Zappos as an example.

Zappos are the biggest online shoe retailer, but that was never the Zappos goal. It may have been the Zappos vision, but one of the first Zappos goals was to see if there was appetite to buy shoes online.

The founder never invested in large quantities of stock or a complex ecommerce website. He photographed stock at local shoe stores and put them online.

Once orders arrived, he went back to the shop to buy the stock and shipped the orders himself.

Orders confirmed an appetite for an online shoe store. The goal was checked off the list and the next goal(s) set.

Within product design, this is referred to as a MVP, a minimum viable product.

Minimum viable product

Incremental (top) vs Iterative (bottom)

A minimum viable product is a useable product with just enough features to allow validated learning of the product and its continued development.

Feedback from a MVP is less expensive and less risky than releasing a final product which could be based on nothing other than assumptions.

A good MVP can be added to with each iteration, allowing the product to evolve over time.

MVP in football

Jurgen Klopp in the thick of the celebrations

Jurgen Klopp’s foundation for all teams he has managed is what is referred to as “gegenpressing”, closing the opponent down as quickly as possible.

“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. He will have taken his eyes off the game and he will have expended energy. Both make him vulnerable.”

Tactics like this need a high level of fitness.

With Jurgen Klopp’s first full season as manager of Liverpool Football club the goal seems to have been to increase the fitness levels of his current crop of players, rather than investing lots of money and rebuilding his squad.

Those players, with increased fitness levels are now Jurgen Klopp’s MVP.

With the players at the level of fitness required for Jurgen Klopp’s renowned tactical approach, he can begin to gather validated learnings of their ability and application without the expense of a squad overhaul.

With this MVP, Jurgen Klopp can identify weaknesses of his product, adding to it and evolving it iteratively over time.

The key is iteration

The goals are small enough to allow for agile changes and adaptation.

The personnel, if identified as not fitting his preferred model, can and will change.

The vision however, will remain the same.