In Praise of Incrementalism

Podcasts are one of the greatest things that have happened to evolve how we learn. It puts learning in your ears when you can’t use your eyes – in the car, at the gym, or walking down the street. Recently I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast and was struck by the topic of marginal gains.

Marginal gains is based on the fact that throughout history, progress has come from a series of small improvements—each person incrementally improving on an aspect of the whole for which they are responsible. More broadly applied, it’s the thought that by breaking something up into multiple smaller steps helps you to get from point A to point B more efficiently and effectively than in one giant step.

The podcast focused on the UK cycling team and how they used marginal gains to become a powerhouse in the cycling world. The coach had an idea to produce at least one-percent improvement in every facet of the team’s sport. Examples include bike mechanics, like flawlessly installing tires, to rider dynamics, or slightly dropping a rider’s head to gain a minor aerodynamic advantage, to health, like perfecting sleep patterns, to the physiological, like improving nutrition and avoiding infections. A myriad of minor changes led to improvements in all these areas, which resulted in big gains for riders in the Olympics and Tour de France.

If you break your performance down into its component parts, you can map out where you can make small changes that will result in big enhancements. Within maintenance, a concerted effort focusing on marginal gains can be employed to encourage all technicians to focus on small changes. Changes such as cleaning up thoroughly after work, booking out every part they use, providing feedback on procedures that are inefficient or out of date, proper use of closing codes, etc. While these individual changes may seem small the accumulative effect will be noticeable.

Every journey starts with one small, single step. You need to have a plan in place to build on that single step in order to achieve big improvements. As you head into your next project, what are the small changes you can make to produce large improvements?

Until next time…we are Advoco, make every minute count.

About Steve: In addition to being a founder and partner, Steve is Advoco’s resident math whiz—he has a PhD in Mathematics from the University of California, San Diego (his thesis was on the Total Curvature of 4-Dimensional Manifolds in 7-Dimensional Space), and a first class honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, U.K. Steve is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute and heads up our consulting practice. With over 20 years of technical project and program management, Steve consults with clients to solve the challenges that arise within complex systems. He is especially good at bringing together systems from multiple vendors within highly regulated environments. Have a question for Steve? Send him an email!


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