Interviews with Sir David Brailsford about Team Sky's approach to winning have a
strong undercurrent. 'We search for the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything
we do' he has said, and it is clear that this relentless search for improvement in
all areas has had a dramatic effect on the team and its ability to win or place highly
on such a regular basis.
There's an underlying concept which is often talked about in category management
- breakthrough improvement. The idea that there is an underlying and discoverable
improvement in a category which will provide significant benefit, and often we are
searching for that big idea. In many categories, particularly when they have been
neglected for a long period, then this may be true. There are many examples from
many sectors and categories where there has been a dramatic breakthrough: from radical
supply chain redesign, to wholesale supplier elimination, to broad spectrum specification
change, whole organisation relocation.
All of these come face to face with the largest single challenge in most categories:
resistance to change. Sometimes this is embedded resistance to adopting something
new, sometimes it is well founded aversion to risk, particularly in high volume supply
chains. For every significant idea that is adopted, there are at least three which
are cast aside because of organisational resistance to change.
Where we can see this coming, it may be better to get into a Team Sky mindset. Rather
than perish on the sword of dramatic change, flourish instead in the world of gardening
a lot of smaller improvements. There is a danger of this being decried as a Quick
Wins strategy, but we can do well to engage this type of approach as seeking a radical
outcome, but based on incremental improvement.
Of course, we can do both: embracing incremental change as well as breakthrough,
which gives an even better outcome through
Where can we start to seek detail improvement? A good place is to build a good quality
process map, and look for a whole series of identifiers of waste. The 5s's of lean
can give us a great way to think about where we have loss and inefficiency in the
process as a whole. We can look for areas of delay, areas of bottleneck, the sources
of rework, cash flow inhibitors, downtime and stoppage. MEPEM suggests we should
examine materials, environment, people,equipment, method. The whole concept of value
levers gets us to explore the whole range of different ways value can be added.
Thinking more about Team Sky, we can also see that there are occasions when their
approach adapts quickly to changing situations. Different nutrition choice and different
equipment choices being made both on terrain ( which can be planned) but also on
the less predictable element of endurance sport: the human frame and mind. Being
able to adapt and adopt rapidly, and to have the whole system set up to allow for
that, provides the ability to slow, avoid and accelerate away from hazards, before
others can even recognise the need for change.
Beyond that, there's also the purely human element. How can we improve ourselves,
to be more able to operate with the commercial and psychological pressures
which are in place across the working environment we find ourselves in. Many of us
have operated at a level of stress and tiredness that comes with modern corporate
life, often to the detriment of performance. There is a strong argument that we're
unlikely to deliver the best output for our area of responsibility if there is a
real challenge to our broader health. Equally, finding ways to optimise our organisational
skills, project management, communications and influencing can help dramatically
with the outcomes we're expected to produce.
So here's the challenge we need to adopt: seeking dozens of small improvements across
the whole of the category area we're responsible for, to get to that overall improvement
in performance that we need to deliver.
Sir David Brailsford again : "It’s important to understand the 'aggregation of marginal gains’. Put simply….how small improvements in a number of different aspects of what we
do can have a huge impact to the overall performance of the team". How will that
work for you?