Parallels Between Philadelphia Eagles’ Coach Chip Kelly & A Lean Leader
The Philadelphia Eagles are playing in an NFL playoff matchup tonight against the New Orleans Saints. I’d admired Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his somewhat unlikely rise through the coaching ranks. He’s well known from his successful stint at the University of Oregon, but before that he was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, a school in the lower “FCS” tier that managed to upset my beloved Northwestern Wildcats in 2006 (please hold your jokes about NU being “lower tier”).
When the Eagles hired Kelly, many thought that he would directly transplant his wild, fast-paced offensive game to the NFL. That strategy has failed for other college coaches who made the leap to the NFL. That, with the poor track record of other college coaches in the NFL, the odds might have been against Kelly. But, he’s in the playoffs… and he’s sort of like a “Lean leader.”
The Wall St. Journal had an interesting article ($$) on Kelly: “Why the Eagles Aren’t Ducks – Chip Kelly Defies Expectations That He Would Import Oregon’s Offense to Philadelphia.” You might be able to find a free version via this Google search.
Some Lean-related highlights (or ideas that make me think of the Lean style of leadership):
“Because he had so much success at Oregon, the perception is that what he did at Oregon is the exact same thing he was going to do here,” said Roseman.
Added Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie : “It was never ‘Here’s the playbook, here’s what we did at Oregon.’ “
I think a good Lean leader comes into an organization and adapts his strategy and approach to the needs of the organization. I saw this at GM, when we got a new plant manager in 1996 who had great experience at the famed NUMMI plant in California (read more about this here).
When Ford hired Alan Mulally away from Boeing to be CEO, Mulally was thrown into a new industry and a company in very different financial circumstances. I’m sure he had to adapt. He probably came in with a game plan and some ideas, but he probably had to adjust.
Let’s say Boeing hired a leader away from Toyota… they might have to make a very similar adjustment and adaptation to the new environment. The same would be true if a very successful Lean healthcare CEO moved to a new hospital… the game plan that made them successful someplace else might not work exactly in the new environment.
That transplanted leader might keep certain core principles and values (including basic Lean principles), but they might adapt in the details — as Chip Kelly has done. Kelly doesn’t run the exact same collge offense in the NFL, but he’s brought elements that would remind you this is a Chip Kelly team.
The article talks about Kelly asking questions in his Eagles’ interview (a good Lean leader asks lots of questions):
Kelly, however, answered almost all the questions with questions of his own: Why worry about a perfect run-pass balance? Why try possessing the ball for long periods of time when the goal is to score more points? Why should the kicking of an extra point be automatic? Why punt automatically? Why align the tackles in a balanced way? Why practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday? Where’s the science behind that?
“There was obviously a philosophy of being inquisitive,” said Lurie, calling Kelly “someone who challenged the obvious.”
In the interview process, Roseman and Lurie said Kelly argued that strategy ought to be shaped to fit personnel, not to fit a coach’s philosophical beliefs or mirror his previously successful schemes.
Those are all great points. I love how Kelly asks, “Where’s the science behind” a certain strategy. Being inquisitive and challenging the obvious, shaping strategy to personnel are familiar themes to me in the Lean world.
I’ve seen transplanted leaders get into trouble when they tried to copy directly what worked for them someplace else. When I worked at Dell Computer in 1999-2000, I saw leaders come in from other computer companies and they wanted to immediately start changing some core parts of the factory’s approach… this often led to a lot of whipping back and forth based on who the new leader was.
I love how Kelly challenges the “way it’s always been” (another good Lean leader trait), such as moving the usual “off day” from Tuesday to Monday. Why not? Let’s make a change and see what works in the PDSA model (Plan-Do-Study-Adjust). The stakes are high in the NFL… and making changes that go against the conventional wisdom are seen as risky and can garner more criticism than just going with the flow.
Isn’t the same true in healthcare and other industries?
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