Rugby Ball and Goal Post - How Lessons from sport can apply to Supply ChainIreland is no longer in the running for the 2022 Six Nations Grand Slam but the story of how we became one of the best teams in the world is fascinating.

Insight, professionalism, preparation and hard work have all combined to put us in the top 5 teams internationally.

But would you have thought there were lessons we could learn from sport and apply to things like Supply Chain?

As the Six Nations Campaign continues, let’s focus on what we can learn from our sporting heroes and apply to our supply chains.

Depending on what side of the white line you sit on you will state that a supply chain is way more complex than taking a penalty kick or the pressure to perform at a given moment in the Aviva in front of over 50,000 spectators.

But when you break it down, I would argue they are not that different.

They both follow a tried and tested process.  The mechanics may change but the mechanism is the same.

A well-executed penalty is a thing of beauty.  The kicker rambles up, casually places the ball on the tee and without even looking at the goals, easily kicks it over.  It may appear that way however that is definitely not the case.

What actually happens is.

The out half in consultation with the captain determines the probability of success and based on that, decides what the next step will be.

What we see next is a process, unique to every out half but none the less a process.  Everything from ball placement, to checking wind speed and direction to the approach to the delivery of the kick is a well-researched, well trained and well-structured process.

Indeed, repetition is a big part of that process, we see kickers packing conversions before every game, from the touchline on left- and right-hand side and we see the long range training from half way line.

These are the last 30 minutes of a career training so that the kick itself is the seamless part.   Head to any pitch mid-week and the kicker will be there in all weather conditions following exactly the same process regardless of the fact that no one is looking.

They are building the muscle memory.  The stand outs in this are of course the master Johnny Wilkinson with the trademark cupped hands and the laser focus of his eye from ball to target before the strike.  And of course, who can forget Dan Biggar and his methodical routine of twitches and touches at each kick.  These are two of the world’s best and two with repeatable, dependable steps in their process.

Our own Ronan O’Gara scored 202 penalties and 176 conversions for a grand total of 958 points.  However he will have kicked many tens of thousands over the same period.  Repetition and Simulation are key to success when the big moment is needed

Likewise in supply chain management, every task has a process, every routine has a process and every supply chain has muscle memory.

How we react to a shipment arriving damaged at the back door when compared to how we react to the current global constraints are all governed by our process, we have to reach into our supply chain kit bag for different process, different tools and techniques.

Traditionally we call these standard operating procedures, however that gives the impression that these are documented once and forgotten with.  So how do we make these living breathing process.

  1. Define the process
    • Identify each and every step in the process. (even down to the Dan Biggar twitch equivalent in our process)
  2. Visualise the process
    • Recall how Johnny Sexton “traces” the flight of the ball in air as he lines up. Visualise what success will look like, for our kickers it is the score board turning over, in supply chain identify the metric that defines success and what defines good.
  3. Make the process muscle memory through repetition
    • For regular transactions, repeat, repeat, repeat. There is no substitution for validating our process
    • For rare events – simulate the process, through simulation we will be ready for when the rare events happen.
  4. Assess the risk
    • What is the risk profile in our supply chain and how to eliminate. Do we need the full back to come in and stabilise the ball in high winds?
  5. Follow the process
    • Stick to the process, it has been trialled and tested. We have a tried and tested process and proven it on the training pitch.  Let muscle memory guide us through the big day. Variation is the source of errors.
Published On: March 15th, 2022 / Categories: Insights /
Brian O’Brien

Partner & Head of
Coffee Conversations

Do you want to improve business performance?