3 Continuous Improvement Hacks From The New England Patriots

Mike Girdler

Dominate your industry like the New England Patriots While I’ve never considered myself a New England Patriots fan, I cannot help but marvel at their …

Dominate your industry like the New England Patriots

While I’ve never considered myself a New England Patriots fan, I cannot help but marvel at their dominance over the last 15 years. They have not only won 5 Super Bowls but are always in the conversation, and always in contention, in the intensely competitive National Football League. I also know that whenever I watch their games, or hear quotes from their coaches and players, I cannot help but draw parallels between their success on the football field and the success experienced by organizations that adopt a philosophy of, and commitment to, continuous improvement. Here are 3 examples of how the New England Patriots succeed through continuous improvement.


# 1 – A commitment to continuous improvement starts at the top

“We’re always trying to do a better job on that and that’s what we’ll continue to do.” Head Coach and General Manager, Bill Belichik.

Anyone who has tried to implement a continuous improvement effort, whether it’s a process improvement, a 5S initiative, whatever, without the support from executives, knows it simply will not work. Senior people need to be completely bought in, engaged and spokespersons for the initiative and the philosophy of continuous improvement. The quote establishes clearly what Bill Belichick’s mindset is when it comes to continuous improvement.

Here’s another one from Coach Belichik, “I think that we’ll continue to try to look at ourselves in the mirror and see where we can do a better job, maybe where we can improve the process…”. Process, improvement, enhancing value, moving to a better future state, that’s what I get out of that quote. While these may seem like soundbites that can be wrapped in any context one likes, it’s impossible to deny that they come from a high-ranking individual in the organization and clearly reflect an approach that says, to continue to be successful, we need to continually improve.


#2 – Waste removal and value focus

One of the keys to continuous improvement is examining your processes and finding the waste and removing it, finding the value and leveraging it. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was quoted saying, “I think what it comes down to is you try to practice those as much as you can and you try to make those decisions on the field that are going to impact the season, and turnovers are a big part of the reason, at least for our team, why we’ve won and lost.” Like any process improvement project, the Patriots examine the process of what gives them the best chance to be successful – to win. They’ve determined how costly the waste of turnovers can be, and the value of keeping possession of the football. They constantly refine their game process with an eye on being as successful as they can be.


# 3 Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)

PDCA (an acronym for Plan, Do, Check, Act) is a 4 stage approach for continuous improvement – process, products, services, etc. It affords an opportunity to analyze a problem or opportunity and develop a hypothesis – a plan, test it, measure the effectiveness and implement or begin again.  Anyone who watched the 2017 Super bowl was treated to a game for the ages, and while no one in the Patriots organization may have actually used the term PDCA, you can see it in action. First, the Patriots developed a hypothesis, a plan – how they would beat the Falcons. They then tested it out in practice, acknowledged that it would be effective and adopted it. Even though the Patriots were getting killed in the first half, the Patriot’s players and coaches knew the plan was still correct – it just needed to be executed better. They made the required adjustments and effectively implemented the plan to be successful and complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.


There you have it. Three shining examples of continuous improvement helping one of the most dominate football teams in history succeed through a commitment to continuous improvement from the top, a focus on getting rid of waste and maximizing value, and the adoption of the PDCA approach. Okay, so, maybe I am a Patriots fan.


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Michael Girdler is a vice-president, CornerStone Dynamics Inc. His blogs focus on all things project management. Throughout Mike's career, he has invested deeply into projects involving sales, marketing, training and development, continuing education, and communications environments.

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