Winning the Olympic way

Oh, where do I start? For a long time now I’ve considered the analogies between sport and business usually about how well / badly Mike Ashley (and his predecessors) are managing Newcastle United.

But now the Olympics are with us I have been listening to the news and reading a lot that throws up so many opportunities for business. I want to pick on two today from the world of cycling.

Firstly, Dave Brailsford, Team GB’s cycling coach. He has famously been quoted on the concept of “the aggregation of marginal gains” which is essentially about finding all the small improvements that taken alone would hardly make any difference but when brought together can make the difference between winning and losing. The business analogies here are endless but again I’d like to raise two.

  • The first of these is how if everyone in an organisation were to raise their output / effectiveness by just 1% then the aggregate gain would be enormous. To get to that situation everyone needs to act / react in the way that Dave says
    “If a mechanic sticks a tyre on, and someone comes along and says it could be done better, it’s not an insult – it’s because we are always striving for improvement, for those 1% gains, in absolutely every single thing we do.”

    That can be quite difficult in business, how might an engineer react if an operator suggests a technical improvement? In a good organisation they’ll react positively but there are many companies where that would be seen by the engineer as losing face, they should have thought of that improvement not someone else. And the concept applies throughout.


  • The second sub-analogy is with changeovers and turnarounds, only here I’m not expecting 1% but almost every changeover I have been involved with has resulted in a 50%+ improvement, partially as a result of 1% here and there but also by eliminating and /or ‘externalising’ activities and ‘streamlining’ both internal and external activities. Externalising means doing the task outside of the changeover and streamlining is making the task easier and shorter. Don’t think I need to explain elimination. The same process applied to changeover can be applied to turnarounds. Can you imagine the benefit of 50% less time spent on a shut down but with all the tasks completed? It’s possible. The best example of a changeover is the tyre change in Formula 1, just look at how that has reduced in recent years.

Secondly, Nicole Cooke in becoming Britain’s first gold medallist in road cycling used a ‘risk based approach’ that partially adopted the aggregation of marginal gains but also, more strongly, applied the management of risk. In her case she used lightweight tyres that were more prone to puncture but were obviously lighter and faster, she calculated that the benefit far outweighed the risk. Which was also true when in the very last corner she decided to take it slower than her competitors because with lightweight tyres and wet roads there was a greater risk of crashing. She calculated that she could allow the others to move ahead of her because she knew she could catch up if she didn’t fall. So the analogy here is how many times have production departments thrashed on at high speed chasing a daily target yet only to trip and then miss both daily and weekly targets? When if they had thought about the risk and taken things slow and steady they would have hit both targets and would not have had the maintenance cost of the trip or breakdown and the commensurate production loss.

One of our clients had discovered a huge amount of effort went into developing permits for maintenance tasks. After a detailed risk based analysis of each task the number of permits was reduced by 57% without endangering anyone – not an insubstantial saving on 8,000 man hours.

What are you doing to aggregate your marginal gains? What risk based approaches are you taking?

Image credit: Physical Flaws via flickr

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About the author

Dave Dyer

Dave Dyer is a principal consultant within the Operations Improvement team in ABB Consulting. His speciality is in bringing sustainable change and operational benefits to an organisation through the engagement of its people. He hopes to share good ideas and good practice, to inform and to learn.
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