Team GB Regain Their Mojo

“For several years it looked as though Team GB’s track cyclists had lost the air of invincibility they had in Beijing – but after two days of the London 2012 track programme it seems Britain’s Olympic medal factory might be about to break all productivity records.”  -Matt Slater, August 2012

While I was working with a team at Network Rail in the UK a few weeks ago, one of the lean coaches told me about Team Great Britain’s Olympic Cycling Team.  The manager, coach and the team adopted what they call “The Principle of Marginal Improvement” in defining their competitive strategy.  In brief, they start by observing and writing down everything they can impact.  Beyond the obvious things such as fitness, nutrition, and biomechanics, they look at the smallest details such as sleeping posture and using the same pillows night after night on the road. Steve Sutton, the coach, looks for “a fraction of a percentage in position, in the gym, and on the bike” which makes the difference in winning or losing.

In addition to cyclist performance the staff pays deep attention to the plan for events, fully understanding every detail of where they are, being very articulate about what must be achieved to win, and defining clearly what must be done to close the gap. They go the extra 1% to insure that each person understands the plan to the last detail.

It is a very impressive story centered on creating excellence with numerous small steps and disciplined attention to the 1% detail.  Did it work? 7 gold medals would clearly say “yes.”

How many times do we dismiss the 1% opportunities because we are looking for the big win? How many times do we miss the 10 small, simple changes that can add up, creating the difference it takes to win? How many small waste reductions and solved problems have the cumulative impact that prevents a major complexity?

The lean journey is often defined by events and tools– kaizens, value stream mapping workshops, setup reduction workshops, kanban, and 5S. While events are powerful and deliver short term results, they are not the work that creates lean culture and competitive edge over time. Continuous improvement, 1% at a time by many people in the organization, is central to deep sustained lean performance that sets companies apart.

What does 1% look like?

1% of my day is enough time to write this blog post.  Once I 5S my email files, it will take less than 1% of my time to put high value email in the right place, making it simple to find critical information later instead of scrolling through emails and asking others to send the information again.

1-2% of a day spent observing a team huddle meeting with feedback to the leader afterward may be the difference in average and excellence coaching. It may only take 1% of your time to listen to the review of an A3 summary of a problem solving process. A 15 minute waste walk or critical gemba walk with two or three other people represents about 4% of a day. Compare the value the business receives from that as compared to time spent sorting out “cc” emails, sitting in meetings listening to someone ramble, or getting a project back on track after dealing with misunderstandings on scope.

1% improvements by each person on a team could be redesigned work station shelves that eliminate repetitive reaching, lubricant storage at the work station to eliminate walking 130 feet twice per week, on time meeting starts to save 5 minutes per attendee, use of a startup checklist instead of memory to eliminate overlooked steps when interrupted, an air pressure gauge installed at the work station to avoid low torque on pneumatic wrenches. The list can be long.

Using lean principles and rules will make a big difference in personal effectiveness as well as organizational effectiveness.  The power is found in the small fractions and percentages leveraged by many day to day. This power creates the difference between very good and excellent.