The Use of Kaizen in Professional Sports

The Use of Kaizen in Professional Sports

By Discovery Lean Six Sigma

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In an age of modern sports where the playing field is more level than ever and competition fiercer, it’s worth contemplating the success of the Golden State Warriors and New England Patriots.

Led, respectively, by coaches Steve Kerr and Bill Belichick, both organizations have been models of excellence. In the case of the Patriots, it’s been going on since last decade. For the Warriors, it’s been domination in the NBA the past four years, something that looks to continue in the coming years.

With salary caps and more teams loading up to compete, it’s become a coach’s era. And one of the main focuses of coaches – creating and continuously improving a successful system – certainly bears a lot of resemblance to the principles of Lean and Six Sigma.

Particularly, it looks like Kaizen – the Japanese word for process improvement. You could almost consider the hiring of both coaches, and the changes they immediately made to their respective organizations, as a Kaizen Event.

Reducing Volatility

Lean focuses on eliminating waste while Six Sigma focuses on reducing errors and variation. In both cases, the goal is to make a better product, reduce volatility within an operation and make an organization more competitive. That’s what it takes to compete in a global business environment.

In sports, where wins are the goal, the issue is more magnified.

The NFL operates under a salary cap, meaning no team can spend their way out of bad decisions. The players picked in the draft or through free agency, coupled with the strategy used on the field, are the primary weapons they have in their arsenal.

Unlike Major League Baseball, you can’t simply outspend the other team.

However, Belichick has shown a remarkable ability to win no matter what players are on the field (with the obvious exception of quarterback Tom Brady). Kerr, also operating under a salary cap in the NBA, has also shown remarkable consistency in his system, leading the team to three out of the last four championships and four straight appearances in the NBA Finals.

How are they doing that?

Improved Systems

Neither coach, obviously, is going to reveal the secrets they have in coaching a team. However, every game is an opportunity to see how the coaching staffs have slightly altered their approach to win a specific game.

With Kerr, Belichick and their respective coaching staffs, it’s apparent in almost every game. Adjustments are made to better compete against different opponents. Players used in one role may suddenly be used in another way. They are shifting operations to meet the immediate demand.

Every coach in every sport has this ability, but both Belichick and Kerr have refined systems that clearly do it better.

While the details are unknown, both seem to have employed a version of Value Stream Mapping, a Lean tool used to clearly lay out every step in a process and eliminate wasted or unnecessary efforts. That applies both to individuals – in this case, players – and the entire organizational culture.

Some may want to point to players such as Brady, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant as the real reasons for the success of the Patriots and Warriors. Certainly, that is a significant factor. Lean and Six Sigma experts know that the methodologies focus as much on people as process.

But it’s important to understand the value of both, which Kerr and Belichick certainly do. It’s also insightful to learn that sports history is full of teams that have been loaded up with talent and underperformed. The New York Times Five Thirty Eight blog pointed out that under performance by so-called “super teams” such as the Warriors is actually the most common outcome.

It takes a streamlined, smart system to maintain excellence. Clearly, both Kerr and Belichick have devised efficient and effective systems.

How Six Sigma Might Work in Sports

So how could sports teams apply Six Sigma? As pointed out by Villanova University, the Six Sigma methodology of DMAIC can directly relate to sports teams. The acronym stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

For a typical sports team, it might look something like:

  • Define – Define the strengths and weaknesses of a team
  • Measure – Collect data on the areas of the game they want defined, which is something teams in every sport do today
  • Analyze – Look at the data for information on how to make improvements. This requires smart data analysis
  • Improve – Make the improvements that will lead to better results
  • Control – Put systems in place that will maintain these improvements

But it can go beyond that. Think of these core ideas from Lean and Six Sigma that are being applied by many sports teams today – whether they are called by those terms, or not.

The use of data – Lean and Six Sigma do not rely on guesswork, but rather on data that creates an accurate picture of both where you are and where you need to go.

The need for continuous improvement – What worked five years ago will not work now in business or in sports. Even great systems can always get better.

The value of teaching – As pointed out by The New Yorker, teams over the past few decades have put a lot more resources into how they teach players about the system they are playing in. This is the result of performance evaluation and success rates. It’s paid off for teams that are consistent.

While they may not call it Lean or Six Sigma, head coaches such as Kerr and Belichick are putting some of the tenets of the methodology to work. Probably all teams could benefit from adopting a process improvement mindset – that is, if they want to keep up with the competition.

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Original: https://www.sixsigmadaily.com/the-use-of-kaizen-in-professional-sports/
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Posted: September 12, 2018, 11:00 am

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