In the early months of 2017, in April to be exact, my wife and I traveled with our daughter to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Together with the Aruba Rhythmic Gymnastics team, my daughter competed in a regional Rhythmic Gymnastics invitational tournament.
Even though I’ve seen my daughter perform with her team a number of times at her gym, I have never been to an official international rhythmic gymnastics competition before. For those who do not know, rhythmic gymnastics is different from artistic gymnastics. The latter one is the most popular type of gymnastics in the Olympic games. Artistic gymnastics is mainly focused on agility, strength and balance. In this type of gymnastics the women compete in vault, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise. On the other hand, all rhythmic gymnastics routines are performed on the floor while using various types of apparatuses, like hoop, ball, clubs, rope and ribbon. The gymnasts can also perform without an apparatus, which is called freehand. The routines are performed with music and the athletes are judged based on grace, dance, flexibility, and eye-hand coordination.
Even though the sport tournament might seem like a fast paced beauty pageant with contestants wrapped in glitter and Swarovski crystals, I acknowledge that I was inspired and mesmerized by the talented performances of the athletes. Clearly, these contestants put so much effort and work in their routines and to reach the podium they must have done an incredible amount of preparation.
I not only enjoyed the event and learned so much from the competition, it even inspired me to write this blog. As someone who loves to study operations practices and teaches operations management, I always attempt to draw inspiration from all sorts of circumstances in order to address operations excellence.
For those unfamiliar with the term, operations is concerned with the design, management, and improvement of the systems that create the organization’s goods or services. It is an important functional area because it plays a crucial role in determining how well an organization satisfies its customers. In the case of private-sector companies, the mission of the operations function is usually expressed in terms of profits, growth and competitiveness; in public and voluntary organizations, it is often expressed in terms of providing value for money.
So here’s my opportunity to combine what my daughter loves to do best with what I enjoy doing. I present to you the three lessons operations managers can learn from the rhythmic gymnastics sport:
1. You have to excel at many things at the same time
There is no doubt that rhythmic gymnastics is hard and when it comes to tournaments, since the sport requires athletes to bring out their best on many levels: peerless artistry, jaw-dropping choreography, and unreal body control. Only by excelling at the different skills, rhythmic gymnasts will be able to deliver top notch performance.
This is a key lesson to be learned in operations: you must figure out ways to stand out at many competitive performance objectives at the same time, being: quality, speed, dependability, flexibility and cost. In this age of competitive business environment, organizations need to learn to achieve operations excellence on many levels. As an enterprise you got to commit to quality which refers to doing things right by providing error free goods and services, while at the same time you need to focus on speed, which means doing things fast, to minimize the time between the order and the availability of the product or service that gives the customer speed advantage. In addition to quality and speed, you’ve got to be dependable, which refers to doing things in time for customers to receive their goods or services when they are promised, and display flexibility, which means being able to change the operation in some way when the demand requires it to do so. And last but not least, one major operations objective, especially where companies compete with prices is ‘cost’. Affordable price is a universal attractive objective to customers, which can only be achieved by producing goods at lower costs.
2. Design to win!
As a rhythmic gymnastics coach shared with me: “gymnasts spend as much time in creating their routines as in learning to perform them.” So designing a routine is an extremely important element in paving the road to victory. As I mentioned before, rhythmic gymnastics is about delivering exhilarating floor routines that mesmerize judges and spectators. The routines should therefore be crafted in such way that they contain a considerable amount of variety, surprising and unexpected choreography that promote excitement, and enough level of difficulty in the use of apparatuses. When designing a routine, every single detail counts, and it’s not just the performance, but also the overall presentation of the athlete: outfit, choice of apparatus, music, hair and makeup.
In operations, design plays an equally important role. When planning on producing a new product and/or service, the key factor is the product and service design. From an operations perspective, successful designs come down to these basic principles: translate customers’ wants and needs, refine existing products and services, develop new products and services, formulate quality goals, formulate cost targets, construct and test prototypes, document specifications, and translate products and service specification into process specifications.
3. Troubleshoot, learn and improve
We are all humans, and that counts for rhythmic gymnasts as well. During their performance, rhythmic gymnasts can’t just keep a death grip on their clubs, ribbons, hoops or ropes the whole time. These items must remain in constant movement throughout the routine, and many moves involve gymnasts tossing the apparatus way up into the air and doing a series of acrobatic dance movements before catching it again. So dropping stuff happens.
During the competition I’ve witnessed many occasions where gymnasts fail in their routines, they drop the apparatus or trip during the show. However they manage to quickly recover, regain control, catch up with the music and finish their routine with confidence and a smile on their faces. Part of being a successful rhythmic gymnast, is the ability to adjust to circumstances during a routine, but also to learn from mistakes and improve in their future performances.
Just as in rhythmic gymnastics, operations management acknowledges that human activities play a key role in the creation and delivery of products and services and consequently mistakes may happen sometimes. Effective operations know how to quickly recover from mishaps and attempt to make things right, and more importantly, to learn from mistakes. Especially, when a customer experiences discomforts from a defective product and service, the role of operations is to assume a proactive stance and resolve the customer’s issue, regardless of who is right or wrong in this case.
Good operations furthermore investigate defects by performing root cause analysis. If there is a quality issue, analyze it and find the root cause. Then fix the cause so no more mishaps in that process manner are experienced. Any good quality system will guide an organization through the examination to find the root cause, document the examination and the changes required, and then adjust its operations process(es) accordingly.
So there you have them. Three operations lessons you can learn from rhythmic gymnastics.