Posted by: knightbird | June 23, 2015

Little Victories Add Up

Many strategic planning trainers tell you to set what they refer to as “BHAG’s” or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Dream big they say. And work hard to achieve that goal. You motivate people by these big dreams, and if they are motivated, they will work harder. I am not sure I agree with this advice any longer. I have read about the tremendous achievement of the British Cycling Team. They are winning 80% of the track races they participate in, and have become a regular on the Road Racing circuit winner’s circles. How did they get there? According to the coach that brought them there, they arrived through an “Aggregation of Marginal Gains.” By focusing on small improvements every day, they achieved the bigger goals they aspired to. And they achieved the goals they aspired to 40% faster than their big dream said they would.

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains is essentially Lean Thinking in a different context. Let’s look at the concept.

Bicycle racing requires merging multiple systems into one. The human that pedals the bicycle must be trained, fed, healed, motivated and supported through the intense effort required to be world class. As Anders Ericsson postulated, it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful effort to become world class in anything. His theory was developed in the context of human development, but the same is likely true for systems development. Most businesses put effort into getting better. But they have no theory based on science to help them. Lean is based on science, more specifically, the PDCA Cycle. Through the tools used in Lean, mistakes, defects and errors are analyzed and replaced with change that improves the results being sought. A theory of continuous improvement requires every defect to be recognized and eliminated, if possible. As you achieve great results, the opportunities for improvement become smaller. In the early days of Kaizen, especially in a truly dysfunctional organization, improvements are huge. Reducing human effort is particularly easy. Systems that require 10 people can often be run with 3. Output can increase my multiples of thousands of percent. In a highly improved system, the gains are much smaller, but just as important. Think of it this way. Once you become complacent, it’s just as easy to slip by small increments as it is to improve the same way. A culture of continuous improvements make defects the ever present enemy. You need a theory to hold on to the gains achieved. That theory is called standard work.

The British cycling team uses a bun warmer. It’s a garment that keep the butt and thigh muscles at an optimum 38 degrees celsius for optimum performance. They wash their hands to reduce illness. They have standard work for warming up before races. The choreography applied to all of their improvements requires a significant team of professionals to keep all of their cyclists on task.

Lean Leaders need the same attitude. Focus employees on improving all the time. No defect is too small to fix. Teams should work together to make sure standard work is done correctly. Science should guide you. After all, how did the British cycling team determine that 38 degrees centigrade was the proper temperature to use for great performance. And if it’s 37.6 degrees, then that becomes the standard. After all, a small gain might be the difference between a successful outcome, or not.

Give it a try.

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