In this era of the lean startup, deep planning and rigid processes seem out of style. I agree that startups should prioritize testing and iteration but my experience has been that successful organizations also plan well and have strict processes.
For example, I was fortunate to be a rookie reserve on the 1991-92 Washington Redskins, a team that went 17-2 and won the Super Bowl. It was Coach Joe Gibbs’s fourth Super Bowl and his third Super Bowl victory. Suffice it to say, he and his coaching staff had their processes down pretty well…
Here are a few things I remember about their methods, in no particular order:
1. They implemented KPIs clearly.
Of course, winning was the ultimate KPI, but that was simply the tip of the pyramid, underneath there were dozens of KPIs for individuals and units. Special teams had average yards allowed on kickoff, average yards gained on kickoff return, punt return yards, hang-time of punts, etc., etc.
Some KPIs were derived from “big data”, e.g., historic data showed that if our defense kept an opponent below 16 points, we would usually win, if not we would usually lose. (Our offense had 21 points as their KPI.)
There were serious consequences, consistently implemented, for players or units who failed to meet their KPIs. There were also rewards for meeting KPIs.
2. They held people accountable.
In order to do so, they recorded and measured everything. For example, the AV staff videotaped every second of every practice. Then, each morning in the team meeting, Coach Gibbs would fast forward to random plays from practice: if he caught someone not hustling, he called them out and chastised them in front of the team. Even if you were not on the field during the play, if he saw you on sidelines not paying attention, talking to a teammate, laughing, etc., he castigated you publicly, big-time, in front of everyone.
On the other hand, good effort and results were publicly praised.
The result? Everyone had a very good work ethic…
3. They controlled time completely.
Every practice, every meeting, was scheduled down to the second. There was no unstructured time where you could slack off, develop bad habits, etc. When you were in the office, you were on the clock. It seems bad but in many ways it was a relief: you knew the exact length of practice, workouts, meetings, etc., so you could manage your expectations and your output. You ran at 100MPH when you needed to, knowing that you could rest and recover later.
This is totally different from most startups, I know but maybe there is a way to blend structured time with a successful startup culture…
Anyway, it was good to know that your free time was your own, your work time was the team’s.
4. Intense market/competitive research.
The number of man-hours that went into watching film and studying tendencies of opposing teams can’t be calculated. It was a year-round process that, eventually, got distilled down to a specific plan (the “gameplan”) on the week of a given game. The gameplan was essentially a chess match written in advance by the grandmasters (the coaches) and disseminated to the chess pieces (the players).
5. In-game Adjustments
Once the game started, the coaching staff would iterate from the gameplan according events on the field. In fact, for all the rigid processes that the Redskins had, Joe Gibbs was famous above all other coaches for making successful game-time adjustments.
Here is the big disconnect with startups: many entrepreneurs think planning is a waste of time because, once you hit the market, the plans will be wrong and you will need to change anyway. This is incomplete. You will have to iterate, of course, but planning precedes successful iteration – processes facilitate efficient iteration.
It was precisely Gibbs’s meticulous preparation, planning and practice that allowed for successful iteration during the game. (“Plans are useless, planning is indispensible.”)