Marginal Gains follow the Rigorous Programme Plan!

Following on from the previous post that mentions British Cycling, we continue the departure from the tennis theme!  This could also be entitled ‘underpromise and over deliver’!

With all the buzz following the Olympics, there’s been lots of space in the press dedicated to the aggregation of marginal gains.  This after British Cycling’s Performance Director, cited this as a major reason for the dominance of Team GB in the velodrome, winning seven out an available ten gold medals.

Don’t be fooled, while this is something which demonstrates the man’s dedication and attention to detail, it is his overall organisation and planning that came first.

A recent BBC interview with Brailsford, towards the end of the games, led to people focusing on the marginal games but more revealing was the following from the man:

“We start by analysing the demands of the event we want to win.  We then prioritise because we know we can’t win everything. Then we look at where we are today and see the gap between where we are and where we want to be and how we can get there…”

He then broke it down as follows:

“Firstly, you need a team with the skills and motivation to succeed”

“Secondly, you need to understand what you want to achieve”

Thirdly, you need to understand where you are now”

“The, you need to put a plan in place to see how you can get from where you are now to what you want to achieve”

British Cycling (and Team Sky) are effectively executing a number of change programmes, with particular goals.  Since the beginning of 2010 they have delivered on 28 projects in their search for marginal gains, all of which are targeted to reach their overarching goals.  They have created an environment where success is inevitable.  In terms of this Olympics, despite the additional challenge since Beijing of only being able to field one athlete per event and a change to the events, they still managed to dominate.  For Team Sky, Brailsford, less than three years ago targeted a British winner of the Tour de France within five years – already realised!

Planning, whether on a four year cycle, or annually, as is principally the case in tennis, athletes and teams still need to follow process laid out by Brailsford above.  Indeed the top tennis players all outline their plans for the next year at the end of the previous one, including prioritising what they want to win (when they need to peak). It is also a lesson for change programmes in a business and technology context – get the overall programme plan in place, then go looking for margin gains.

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Planning, Execution and Peak Performance

Well, this says it all!

The top tennis players all plan their year ahead, with the aim of peaking for the grand slams – the Australian (Jan), French (May/June), Wimbledon (June/July) and the US Open (Aug/Sept), followed by the ATP Tour Finals at the end of the season (Nov).  This year has seen added complications for the top players with the Olympics, which was clearly a major goal for the two finalists, providing an additional challenging, while the season is compressed with the ATP Tour Finals this year starting earlier – the beginning rather then late November.

So far we have seen Federer’s plan to get back to the top realised, following his Wimbledon win, but although his form has been phenomenal for most of the year, he described himself as emotionally drained by the time he’d lost a one sided Olympic final.  Murray played tremendously well and his first win over Federer in a best of five final will hopefully be the prelude to a first slam win.

Planning, in detail, is the key to reaching high performances at the right time and, typically, all professional players sit down with their team at the end of the year to determine their key goals and what they need to do to achieve them.  For the best this is the ultimate in outcome based planning, working through what the outcomes are, what performance levels are needed to achieve them and what processes they need to go through to achieve.

British Cycling has been an outstanding example of this over the last decade, with Dave Brailsford and his team planning and then executing plans to take British Cycling first to the top of the track cycling tree and latterly, to the peak of road racing with Bradley Wiggin’s victory in the Tour de France.  While Bradley and other key characters like Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny may be the headline names, all are keen to stress that their success is the result of a well planned team effort, with a large and complex team.  This should of course be the way we work in all areas of endeavour – if we want to be successful it needs to be, so why isn’t it?!