Guest Post: Talking Lean at the Baseball Winter Meetings
Mark’s Note: Today’s post is a second guest post from a new blogger, Chad Walters. His first post appeared last Friday. I was happy to be able to meet up with Chad to share some local Dallas BBQ while he was in town for the Winter Meetings. Chad blogs regularly at his site: LeanBlitz.net.
I traveled to Dallas last month to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings and promote Lean Blitz at the Baseball Trade Show. While I, as a lean practitioner, can see the use for lean with sports organizations, one of my plans was to talk with some of the major and minor league teams in attendance to gauge their interest. Here’s a smattering of what I learned.
The concept of continuous improvement was clearly very foreign to them. I probably spoke with representatives from over 100 teams, and exactly zero had heard of lean. I can count the number of teams that had heard of Six Sigma on one hand. That’s not a big deal – I myself had been doing process improvement many years ago before having even heard of “lean” so it would be illogical to think teams aren’t looking for ways to do things better.
When presented with the definition of lean, there was some interest. However, when I showed the representatives some examples of where lean could help (i.e. streamlining concession sales and what can be saved) their ears perked up.
While the interest from baseball teams was satisfactory, the attention from sports manufacturers and service providers was surprisingly strong. They carry a traditional business model (i.e. manufacturing) so their familiarity with continuous improvement was very apparent. I think they were happy to see a consulting organization available that has a better familiarity and understanding of their industry.
Baseball teams certainly aren’t lining up for change. Just like with any company, baseball front offices are loathe to make adjustments to the status quo. That being said, the sports industry has traditionally been the slowest when it comes to implementing new business concepts. If managers can be shown how lean and continuous improvement will help improve the bottom line AND help with creating a greater fan experience, they will listen.
Sports remains an “ol’ boys network.” Some teams that talked with me were concerned that I was an outsider and didn’t understand their business. When I explained that I had consulted with the Atlanta Braves and had been an intern with a minor league team they were more receptive to what I was presenting.
So what is the current state of continuous improvement of business processes in the sports industry? We’re in the very early stages. Opportunities for improvement are available all over, but resistance in the form of unfamiliarity and risk aversion to investing in new ideas will make continuous improvement an uphill battle. That said, as Billy Beane put it in Moneyball, “The first guy through the wall always gets bloody.”
Chad Walters is a Lean consultant and owner of Lean Blitz Consulting in Augusta, Georgia, a firm focused on continuous improvement for small businesses and sports organizations. He has run projects for the Atlanta Braves, the Salvation Army, Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Eaton Corporation, The Dannon Company, and the South Bend Silver Hawks among other companies. He has been practicing Lean and continuous improvement for over eight years, is a Six Sigma Black Belt certified by the American Society for Quality, and received his MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where he was a member of the Kelley MBA Sports & Entertainment Academy. Check out his blog…