Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"aggregation of marginal gains" or continous improvement to you and I

If you are not a cycling nut and British born you probably did not notice that the GB cycling team had an absolutely awesome world championship.  They won 6 medals, 2 bronze, 2 silver and 2 gold including the men's road race.  In fact they lead the medal table the first time they have ever done so on the road, track cycling they have been up there for a decade.
If you look carefully you will notice a couple of differences between him and the other (slower) riders.  He is not wearing a standard cycling top but a skin suit and his helmet is different. The helmet has a perspex cover to improve aerodynamics.
In fact the whole team wore skin suits.  For a team to wear skin suits for a road race is very rare.  David Millar's Garmin team did it one year for the Champs Elysee stage of the Tour de France.  That stage was ironically won by Cavendish and Millar was the GB captain for the Worlds.  Out of picture the management team also had set up around the course communicate information to the team.  Race radios which are common for races like the Tour de France are banned at the Worlds and Olympics.
These are 3 little changes which individually would probably not make a difference.  However add them together along with all the other aggregated marginal gains that GB cycling chases and you start to make significant gains.  For GB cycling significant gains were 6 amazing medals.  And for Cavendish something else too:

Why am I writing this, to reinforce that we don't have to go chasing the big gains.  There are very few break through changes which give 10% more capacity without spending a large amount of money.  There are however many, many marginal 0.2% and 0.4% gains that are typically low cost, which aggregated together deliver the big prize.  Be it 10% more capacity or a gold medal.

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