Lessons of the Season
It’s hard to miss the fact that the football season in America has roared onto the scene, more popular than ever. The popularity is reflected by an increasing number of zeros behind the dollar signs in team valuations.
According to an article in Forbes magazine *
|“The average NFL team is currently worth $1.43 billion, the highest value in the 17 years Forbes has tracked professional football team finances. The $1.43 billion average is 23% more than a year ago, the biggest year-over-year increase since 1999.”|
Summing up the team values up as of August 2014 ** means that we are looking at an almost 46 billion dollar industry. Although football may seem far removed from the more staid realities of manufacturing, there are some ways it brings its products to market that can offer insights into businesses of every stripe.
In the end, the National Football League (NFL) offers a central product, which consists of the games that are played between teams. No matter how much ancillary marketing gets done (team jerseys and other physical wares) it all rests on one thing: the interest of fans in watching the games, either in stadiums, on television, or other devices.
Where It All Begins
Can you imagine the Offensive Coordinator of a football team yelling the following into his microphone: “Show some talent! Be physical! Don’t get sacked! Win the game convincingly!” Even a child would know that, while the words make sense, in this context, they make no sense. Yet, we have no problem with sports pundits writing after the game that the team had shown itself to be talented, physical and that it achieved a decisive win over the opponents.
The subject is the same: a football game, yet the realities of these two conversations couldn’t be farther apart. The perspective of someone “in the stands” is radically different from the perspective of someone “on the field.” One is “what is happening”; another is “the story ABOUT what is happening.” One is action; the other is assessment or analysis. And, in the same way we speak of leading and lagging economic indicators, we can also see that the conversation on the field has the nature of “leading” in contrast to the conversation in the stands, which is “lagging.” The actions on the field are the inputs to what eventually becomes the output of the journalist or fan – an assessment or story about what happened. This insight leads us into our “Lessons of the Season.”
You can’t manage supply chain quality with a story about quality, or with an assessment of the way it should be. You need to “get your hands on the ball,” which is the direct action that leads to an assessment of acceptable product quality and success with the customer. Here are some ways of contrasting the points of view, “on the field” versus “in the stands” in both football and quality management.
“On the Field” Action in Supply Quality Management
You can’t manage quality with lagging indicators any more than you can coach a football game with them. It pays to not confuse the two. Let’s look at what the equivalent is for this important business function. When a company is managing quality in any dimension, including supply chain quality, the action is always some variety of observation. It is the level and quality of observation that either allows for corrective action or is a barrier to it.
Lesson #2: You Have to Show It All
What if the coach and players sat down to determine the most important actions for improving their chances to win a championship, and all they could see was a snapshot of the scoreboard at the end of each quarter? What if that’s all the fans could see as well?
The equivalent in supply chain quality management is when a company limits itself to periodic audits. No matter how thorough the audit, it is still a snapshot. It doesn’t show what happened before it, and it guarantees nothing that happens after it, even though it may contain demands for improvement.
Lesson #3: You Have To Do It All
How many times have you heard about teams being “unbalanced”? They may have a really great offensive line, but then their defense gives up so many points they still lose the game. They may have a great defense, but they can’t score points. Or their Special Teams can’t return the ball, or can’t kick through the goal post. It all adds up to a loss.
In supply chain quality management, “doing it all” demands observation that is broad, deep, and timely. This includes traceability, visibility, and manageability, more specifically, analytical capability and the opportunity to intervene before substandard materials enter the supply chain.
“Doing it all” in supply quality management translates into MATERIAL VARIABILITY MANAGEMENT (MVM) and includes the following:
Lesson #4: Sports Analogies Can Only Go So Far
One winner versus unlimited winners.
In football, it’s all about the excitement. The key to the excitement is that there is only one ball. It is a zero-sum game. There simply must be a winner or a loser or the game is pointless. Those of us who take the sports analogy too far into the business field miss a fundamental difference between the two activities. In business, it is our ability to create new “balls” (bringing products to market) within the same game that grows the market for everyone. Instead of battling over ever-shrinking pieces of the pie, we increase the size of the pie. We do that by addressing ever more individual, and as-yet unarticulated needs and wants of as yet unidentified markets, segments, and sub-segments. The activity of generating new “balls” in the game of business should take place on a field of play which itself is rising steadily to ever higher levels of reliability, consistency, and quality.
Let’s Be Boring!
One of the pleasures of following a sport is the excitement of anticipating a match-up. The pleasure comes from the suspense. One of the main goals of the National Football League is to create a condition of “parity,” which means that we can realistically expect either team to win a game. When the score is too lopsided by the middle of the game, team executives cringe. They can just hear all those television remotes turn off by the millions, as they also watch fans streaming out of the stadium. Parking and traffic have trumped their interest in seeing what happens. Sometimes, they regret it, but the impulse to get home ahead of the crowd is understandable when the outcome is so obvious.
It’s a radically different story when we aren’t being fans, but consumers. Do we really want to be in a condition of suspense when we buy an automobile, to see if it actually going to perform as advertised? The opposite is most likely the case. We want that experience of the performance of a product, which means our actual use of it, to be the opposite of a football game and have the least amount of suspense possible. We want it to be predictable and, dare we say, boring! We don’t want to wonder, when we drive to a football game, whether some sub-assembly will need to be recalled because it is now beginning to kill other families just like ours. We don’t want to be in a state of suspense, wondering if a food producer is demanding that their suppliers test each lot they ship before allowing their finished products to reach our family’s dinner table.
We vote with our dollars, as automobile sales figures show. We appreciate automobile manufacturers as leaders who are boringly consistent and always Number 1 in reliability. It comes as no surprise to us that they are also the manufacturers who practice Material Variability Management. They consistently reach beyond their First Tier suppliers, to impose standards of quality reporting that prove conformance to their standards. We, as consumers, love them for how utterly boring and predictable they are, year after year.
In conclusion, we can draw lessons from our most popular form of sports entertainment, but suspense, and its excitement is not one of them!