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2010/01/05 - Continuous Improvements Through Process

posted Jan 5, 2010, 10:40 AM by Rick Anderson   [ updated Jan 5, 2010, 12:27 PM ]
I was reading the USA Today on my Android-T-Mobile-G1 (fantastic Android app - read my initial review and my follow-up review) and came across an article on Alabama's head football coach Nick Saban.  It's an interesting read - the article is written as a thought provoking case study to the recent NCAA report stating that "we do not find a significant relationship between coaching salaries or scholarships and a team's winning percentage."  

Enter case study Alabama - they hire Nick Saban for $4 million per year.  First year out the door Alabama football goes 7-6; second year they achieve a perfect 12-0 in regular season but lose the SEC championship and their bowl game; third year (current) they again achieve a perfect 12-0 in regular season, win their SEC championship, and play Texas on Thursday night in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship.  Besides putting together a winning football program, the results have returned big dollars for the university - they're now expanding the stadium to be greater than 101,000 seats, waiting list for tickets is backlogged at 15,000, donations are up $72 million more than anticipated (in these tough economic times), and football profits from revenue is jumping to nearly $40 million per year.   Writers of the NCAA report defend the report by stating "this is just one example, and it doesn't hold for a lot of other schools. It's a very high-risk strategy."

Good stuff, but the purpose of this writing is to discuss continuous improvements through process.  Within the USA Today article they quote Coach Saban as stating, "I'm not result-oriented.  I'm more process-oriented.  So every day, I'm thinking about what we have to do to continue to get better.  Once you accomplish one thing you've got to get to the next one."  That is the paradigm shift in thinking that must take place to build a winning program/team/department/company/organization year after year.  It's looking at every detail of how work gets done and finding a way to improve at each micro level.  Coach Saban continues, "Nobody talks about the two years I was a G.A. (graduate assistant at Kent State) and used to drive to Pittsburgh to get film developed and stayed up all night cutting it up for the offense, defense and special teams. Those first couple of years, I worked for $8,000 a year. I don't work any different now than I did then."  There's a guy who is tightly focused on generating process-oriented wins!

Process-oriented versus results-oriented - it takes longer but it builds better results.  I've generally held two types of roles throughout my career - either enterprise implementation of technology or sales of technology.  In both cases using a continuous improvement process such as Deming's PDCA cycle (Plan Do Check Act) has been the key to success.  Even in sales?  Yes, the one area of the company which is the epitome of result-oriented thinking and in my experience where that paradigm harms the company greater than anywhere else.  Typical sales groups rely on getting to their number by the end of the month and they'll do anything to get there including margin killing discounts - they run by the seat of their pants and bring "the closer" in when it gets too hot.  Process-oriented selling takes an enormous amount or work and attention to detail, but results in a long term strategy of selling at a profitable margin by everyone on the team.  Process-oriented selling looks at each micro step and determines for each step a success rate at getting the customer closer to the end goal - each step builds up a diagrammed path that is repeatable by the entire team.  Process-oriented selling applies pressure to get each step done right in order to close a successful sale and not on the sale in and of itself to meet an end of month number.

Four books that should be mandatory prior to getting on the sales floor - The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton, Solution Selling by Michael Bosworth, How to Sell at Margins Higher than Your Competitors by Lawrence Steinmetz and William Brooks, and Hope is Not a Strategy by Rick Page.

Contact Rick if you would like to put together a class of continuous improvement in your organization or department to start the new year out right.