What a Coaching Legend Can Teach Businesses about Process Improvement

August, 27, 2010
Jacksonville Business Journal

The late John Wooden, arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time, famously taught his players the proper method for putting on their socks and tying their shoes during the first practice of every season. Surely, a coach focused on such minutia in practice would resemble a whirling dervish on the sidelines during a game, barking out plays and providing instruction every second. To the contrary, Coach Wooden was the picture of calm, knowing his team was prepared to execute. The “Wizard of Westwood” coached his U.C.L.A. Bruins to a staggering 10 national championships in a 12-year period beginning in 1964. Wooden generously shared his recipe for success. An examination of a few of his more famous quotes demonstrates that any business can use the same principles to succeed.

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”

Coach Wooden prepared his team with disciplined practice sessions during which his players repeatedly drilled in fundamentals until the fundamental became second nature. As game pressure mounted, the Bruin’s opponents panicked while Wooden’s Bruin teams simply executed what they learned in practice. In the business world, the best organizations perform in the same way as those championship teams. By preparing in a way that makes the fundamental process second nature, world class organizations ensure quality performance in periods of peak demand.

Instilling second nature fundamentals in your organization can be achieved through the disciplines of process improvement. The steps are simple: 1) define the key value drivers for your customers; 2) examine the current state of organizational performance through measurement and process mapping; 3) redesign the most critical underperforming current processes as necessary to ensure the delivery of value with minimum waste; 4) implement the redesigned process; 5) measure the results; and 6) go back to step one if the results are not satisfactory.

“Be prepared and be honest”

The steps must be executed with honesty.  Improvement is not possible without first knowing what needs to be improved. Seek input from all levels of the organization. Ask customers for feedback. Measure and analyze the results. Always ask the question, “Will this change improve the delivery of value to our customers?” If the answer is “no”, determine why and redesign. Repeat the entire improvement process if necessary. The steps are simple but require considerable discipline. It’s the same discipline Coach Wooden demanded from his teams and that spawned unprecedented success.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

A slow economy presents the perfect opportunity for companies to capitalize on this improvement process. As economic conditions improve, and demand for goods and services increase, organizations that haven’t taken the time to prepare will scramble to react. Those that honestly prepared, by examining and redesigning processes, will execute with confidence and control. Organizations that effectively facilitate this process will become best-in-class whether in manufacturing, distribution, retail, professional services, or even in the business of winning basketball games.

William (Bill) D. Sorenson, MBA is a Senior Analyst with Business Valuation, Inc., a Jacksonville, FL-based firm that provides valuation, litigation support and advisory services to businesses and professionals throughout the Southeast. He leads the firm’s Rapid Process Improvement activities and is a Certified Lean Expert. He can be reached at (904) 356-7600 or bsorenson@bvijax.com.