How can process improvement concepts help both your business and your personal passions? We explain in this golfing journey.
Have you ever been so passionate about a sport you thought to yourself, “I should join a league!” In my case, my passion is playing golf, and, typically, I only play 3-4 times per year, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to play consistently – much less in a weekly league.
Since I am inside all day working with clients, joining a league seemed like a great opportunity to get outdoors in the evening to try to have fun in these crazy times.
The lesson I learned this summer reinforced something I already knew: Golf is a very difficult sport, one that requires a wide range of skills, consistent practice, patience and a burning desire for continuous improvement. Although my primary goal was to play recreationally and for fun, after a few rounds under my belt, I realized I needed to take a more structured approach to improve my game.
Like the business world, it is often helpful to bring in a fresh pair of eyes to assess your operational challenges to help develop a path to achieving your short and long-term goals and achieve operational excellence. So, before we dive into how process improvement concepts can help your personal passions, let’s first look at what that means.
What Is Operational Excellence?
For businesses, operational excellence simply means ensuring your business processes align to your vision and strategy and that your processes are consistent, repeatable, reproducible, efficient and sustainable. Achieving operational excellence balances delivering immediate improvements while building the operational foundation to enable ongoing sustainable improvements.
In my case, as you’ll read further on, I gained immediate improvement in my golf game after working with a professional on my grip and alignment, which built the foundation for further improvements to my swing.
Think Big, Start Small, Act Quickly
Businesses often are tempted to “boil the ocean” when it comes to introducing the processes or operational changes needed to address their business challenges. In most cases, you need to first consider the bigger picture while evaluating your vision and strategy. But then, you need to start small with a quick win to build momentum and then act quickly to scale the change across the organization.
In terms of my personal goals, I often dream of playing on the PGA tour (or, realistically, the Sr. PGA tour) someday, which is a big goal! However, to get there, I need to start small, with basic changes I can then put into practice during my next game. With a continued focus on learning how to address the number of pain points in my game, I plan to make incremental improvements over time to help achieve or get closer to my long-term goals.
Applying Process Improvement Concepts Is a Journey
Golf – and running a business – is hard and takes endurance and tenacity. At the beginning of my story, I shared that golf is hard, even for some of the best professional players in the PGA. The same is true in the business world. Achieving operational excellence is even more difficult for businesses than it is for individual improvement, but it’s not impossible.
This story about my personal passions explains how I used operational excellence and process improvement concepts to address the “pain points” in my golf game. These are the same steps you would take when evaluating areas of improvement within your company.
For example, I joined a #Spark Golf league in the spring of 2021, which gave me the opportunity to play 9-hole rounds of golf 18 times during the spring and summer. Although the league I joined is considered a “social golf league organized to be casual and fun, with a touch of friendly competition,” about halfway through the season, I started to assess my progress after each round to understand what I was doing well and where I could improve.
In other words, I wanted to start understanding the “pain points” in my golf game and what I could do to make the pain go away!
Becoming a better golfer or a better business is a journey that requires a roadmap to define how one achieves success. Here are the process improvement concepts I used to improve my game and how you can use them for business improvement.
1. Start with an operational assessment.
Within your business, you should first identify and understand or define the problem you need to solve and then measure and quantify the impact.
In my case, after each hole, I assessed each shot or stroke needed to get from tee to green (or from when you hit your first shot on the tee until the ball rolls in the hole).
I captured my real-time feedback on my drive, my approach, my chipping (if needed) and my putting. I used a letter grade system to give myself an “A” for great shots (which happened occasionally) and anywhere from a B to an F for bad shots.
2. Identify and understand pain points.
Once you identify the specific problem(s) to solve, you should then gain an understanding of the specific paint points associated with the business problem.
In my case, at the end of each round, I would analyze my scorecard to assess the pain points in my game. For example, two specific things I observed were that I consistently missed my target to the right (in golfing terms, I had a lazy slice), and when putting, I often would miss short putts (3-5 feet) due to not hitting them with enough speed to remain on the intended line.
Over the summer, I noticed a consistent theme in these two areas by looking at my “grades” for my tee shots and putts. The course also had several factors I couldn’t control, such as water or bunkers that also affected my shots, which I took into consideration.
3. Perform a root cause analysis of the problem.
It’s tempting to jump to conclusions regarding the root of a problem using anecdotal statements like “we have poor technology, manual processes, non-integrated systems,” and so on, without determining what the actual “root cause” of the problem is. This doesn’t help you make improvements. You need to try to find the reason for your business problems to make effective improvements.
For me, after searching for answers and watching YouTube videos on the golf swing, I was still unable to determine the root cause of my issues – consistently bad shots. Even though the videos were helpful in providing some useful tips, I couldn’t fully understand what fundamental issue caused my bad shots, so I couldn’t determine what I could change to achieve my desired improvements.
4. Face the reality that sometimes you need help from an expert.
In many cases, your stakeholders can’t determine a root cause because they are too close to the issues and rely on assumptions or statements, like “this is how the process is supposed to work” to drive their problem-solving efforts.
As I mentioned, the instructional (DIY) videos didn’t help me find my root problem. After some self-reflection, I decided to invest in my game and meet with a local golf-teaching professional to get help to understand better how to address the pain points in my game – aka, golf lessons.
5. Balance the desire for immediate results with developing a plan to improve over time.
As mentioned earlier, it is important for you to “Think Big, Start Small and Act Quickly” when it comes to your strategic plan to use process improvement concepts to achieve operational excellence over time.
I had not taken formal golf lessons since I was in the fifth grade, so I was accustomed to using “hope as a strategy” to get better. As soon as I met with my teaching professional, his first question was, “What do you want to improve?” From that point forward it was about creating a roadmap to fix all the areas I’ve mentioned, starting with the foundational elements (e.g., grip, alignment, swing and so forth).
Furthermore, my instructor wanted to know how much desire I had to improve – was I willing to commit time weekly to practicing and applying what I learned during our weekend sessions? Ultimately, he was asking if I was willing to invest in myself to realize the return on my investment. (Spoiler alert: golf lessons aren’t cheap!)
After just my first session with my teaching professional, I saw rapid improvement in my game. It is amazing how quickly an expert in their field can tell you immediately what the root cause of your problem is and how to address it.
For me, my bad shots were primarily due to my grip and my alignment. Upon understanding and applying how these two factors impact the flight of the golf ball, I was able to see immediate improvement. These two changes are the foundation through which I will continue to gain further improvement over time, with practice, practice and more practice.
Moving Forward with Process Improvement Concepts
Businesses require a holistic focus on people, process, information and technology to improve metrics such as:
- Financial performance (scorecards)
- Business agility (grip, alignment and swing)
- Reliability (being able to trust and apply lessons learned when playing each week)
- Scalability (sustaining improvements over time).
In order to compete, you need to equip and train your business with experts in the field who can bring best practice approaches and tools, just like I experienced working with an experienced golf-teaching professional.
So, if you are like me and have a problem you are trying to solve or long-term outcomes you are trying to achieve, consider using process improvement concepts to build a process excellence roadmap. Take note of your performance, document your observations, perform a root cause analysis, and consider reaching out to someone that can bring a fresh perspective.
Each of these will help keep you in the fairway while avoiding the hazards areas like manual or non-standardized processes (bunkers), limited use of metrics in decision making (scorecards), lack of integrated processes and systems (sand traps) and processes managed in functional silos (trees) to help guide you to the green for a chance (all you need is a chance) to make the putt for birdie!