Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow: the shadow is what we think of it: the tree is the real thing.

A. Lincoln

A Lean Sport

I recently had a novel experience when I attended the Rugby 7 Series in Las Vegas. It was a bit of a gamble because I didn’t know anything about the sport of rugby. I spent a few hours before the trip searching for information on the internet at the level of rugby for dummies. I was surprised to learn the event I was attending was a modified version of traditional rugby with 7 players, instead of the traditional 15 players on each side.

Arriving in Las Vegas, I learned that this was one in a series of tournaments around the globe with teams from dozens of countries participating. It immediately appeared to me that this was truly a lean sport because there are two seven minute halves with the entire game concluding in fourteen minutes. They play with a running clock and there were no replay reviews by the officials. The games starts and ends with the precision of a European train system. Each match was like an overtime situation with any mistake on either side magnified by the time constraints. The action in the stands added to the excitement. Groups in the crowd were dressed in a variety of outlandish costumes: sheep, cows, gladiators swimmers and some costumes too obscene to mention. It was definitely a Mardi Gras type atmosphere.

Upon returning home, I reflected on my three day experience at the tournament. It appeared that there were some very tangible examples that could be drawn from this lean sport and applied in business. As we adopt a mindset of compressing time and increasing the sense of urgency, we can accelerate improvement in an effective fashion in our businesses. The rugby players stayed with their game plan but picked up the pace as required. They tried to pass flawlessly with precision to one another as they marched up and down the field. They became more careful versus more careless because of their focus on execution.

I look around many businesses and they remind me of an NBA basketball game. There is little sense of urgency until the last five minutes of the game. Turnovers are a regular occurrence with a laissez faire attitude regarding mistakes. Team play breaks down at various point and turns into a series of one on one contests. No matter how bad teams play for most of the game they feel they can always bail themselves out with risky three point shots in the last quarter of the game.

I often visit operations or hear from people that they really want to do improvement daily but they just don’t have the time. It is probably something you also encounter on a regular basis. I often find these excuses as bogus because most of the people waste a great deal of their day on non value activity and have a fourth quarter mentality regarding execution. It is like exercise: if it is important enough to you, it becomes a priority in your life. You can find the time to do it. Improvements need to be a daily exercise not an episodic event.

So what is the take away from this missive on a lean sport and execution? As Abraham Lincoln stated “time is everything”. We need to view work in terms of minutes and hours and not in terms of days and weeks. We need to adopt Leadership Standard work to improve our ability to focus and execute together. It is essential to find ways to improve and eliminate the majority of non value activity from our hourly and daily work routines. You have to make daily improvement a part of your leadership standard work. It is important to have a coach who can provide feedback on your performance and you to make corrections. By compressing  time like the Rugby seven players you will have to focus more sharply on flawless execution. The time is there but you have to make a concerted effort to utilize time effectively.

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