We asked Agnieszka Gut, talent manager and current EuroMBA student about her thoughts on lean thinking and where she thought it could be applied.

Agnieszka Gut:

Where else I can use lean knowledge practically? Not surprisingly I ended up browsing through millions of websites about lean methodology in the sector of sports. Ciacca (2016) stated that in order to be successful you need to challenge the norms, be bold, do things differently and apply lean thinking to the processes. Frankly, I got inspired by lean methodology because clearly it is a people-centric approach (Jones, 2017).

I decided to put my “lean” hat on. I found my “What?” and it was lean thinking. According to ZeeshaN.SyeD (2016), a lean practitioner, there is no shortage of “waste” in XXI century but there is a shortage of “value”. Then, lean mindset of our times is not only about elimination of waste but also on increasing the value of operations. Going further, I needed to find my “How?”. Nowadays, sport industries experience visible growth. Can manufacturing knowledge serve as an inspiration to improve sport sector? Can we extent lean concept to the sport business? Literature says that yes, if we will learn how to “see the world” through “lean lenses”.

So, what really is lean management in Sports? It means learning by doing as well as application of humility and confidence (Marietsa, 2017). Moreover, it is a constant coaching, mentoring and growth attitude in whatever you are training. Others say it is “respect for people” and in the same time delivering more value to the sports fan (Lean Blog: Sports). You can especially see the application of it in Baseball. John Schuerholtz shares in his interview with WSJ (Adams, 2005) five tips of transforming sport culture along with lean transformation: 1) gather everyone, communicate the plan, and preach it daily. 2) constantly remind them that it works. 3) Don´t be afraid to get rid of people who don’t buy in. 4) Make the lowest – level employees feel as important to success as the top-level executives. 5) Show trust in everyone to do their jobs well.  I certainly agree that these principles are applicable in any sport organization.

“Why?” it makes sense to apply lean in sports? Kaizen as well as Scrum approaches help a sport team to learn, experiment and win quickly with minimum effort and waste  (Marietsa, 2017). Especially a coach-trainer within a team can play the role of kaizen facilitator and a performance-coach.

What are the tools, or innovative technologies that can be used?

  1. Hoshin planning, as systematic method of strategic planning that aligns strategic objectives with the specific resources and action plans (Waldo, 2018).
  2. A3 problem solving (Jones, 2017).
  3. Data-driven insights to make improvements in terms of performance and efficiency.
  4. Kaizen Events.
  5. Value Stream Mapping.

I bet you now wonder, who the successful lean leaders in sports are. I also asked myself this question and I ended up browsing about high-performance sport coaching. Standing out examples are: Dave Brailsford (UK SKY cycling) and Sir Clive Woodward (England rugby coach 1998 – 2003). Woodward stated in his biography:

“These are not necessarily what he would call the value adding moments, the best pass, tackle or scrummage but, rather, making sure the environment around the players reduced waste time and effort and again gave more time for the essential value add stuff to be perfected.”

Is lean the management of the future? I definitely think so, however Byrne (2017) confirms that only 5-7% of enterprises willing to adopt lean approaches succeed. The concept is relatively easy to explain but very challenging to adopt in practice. Why it is so challenging? Many companies fail to understand the nature of lean à it is not only about cutting the costs but also about delivering more value to the end customer. Additionally, “learning-by-doing” is a type of leadership where a bo

ss needs to be physically present and participating on kaizen events. Furthermore, practicing “lean” is a team sport, hence traditional management by objectives approach is not favorable (Byrne, 2017).

There is also one bold challenge that I see every day myself when I am in the gym – automatisation of waste. Everything is literally digitalised: your program, machines, cycling rooms and all types of communication. On one hand it helps sport companies to become lean, but on another hand all the digitalisation just creates more waste inside the process. Honestly, not all the problems can be solved via IT systems. Another challenge is to deliver the right type of class (Gap, Fitness Condition, Zumba) to the right fit level of participant. I really think that if gyms will apply effective tools, such as: A3 problem solving or data-driven insights, better this problem could be solved.

Overall, if lean can be delivered well, the approach really can help in driving extraordinary results in sports. I believe that in the future we will see more companies introducing lean principles in sport environments. There is more to that, every one of us can start living with lean principles – this way we all can create more value in our lives.

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