What the Indianapolis Colts Can Teach Us About Lean

Posted on January 4, 2012 | in Football, New Ideas, Sports, Teamwork | by

The Indianapolis Colts won 10 or more games in 11 of the past 12 seasons with quarterback Peyton Manning at the helm, and won a Super Bowl while reaching the game twice. The primary architects for these successful seasons were Team President Bill Polian and his son, general manager Chris Polian.

The 2011 Indianapolis Colts lost Peyton Manning for the season before it even began, and in the midst of a two-win season some serious talent and management issues came to a head – many years of poor drafting decisions, ineffective coaching, over-reliance on a couple great players to fix mistakes. As a result of the uncovered disaster, the Polians were relieved of their duties this past Monday.

So what can the Colts organization teach us about lean?

  • Lots of problems can be masked by success: Just because you’re winning or flourishing doesn’t mean everything’s perfect and that it will last forever. Always be looking to get better and to sustain the success over a long period.
  • Forcing a couple key cogs to carry the whole load is a ticking time bomb: The Colts placed a lot of the burden for winning on Peyton Manning and wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne the last few years, and they were able to withstand it. Defense gave up a quick touchdown? Manning will manage the clock better on offense. Defense gave up another quick touchdown and now the Colts are losing? Manning will come through in the clutch. Distribute the responsibility equally and train team members, because what happens if the linchpin to the entire enterprise is no longer available? The Colts just found out.
  • Find the right personnel that will succeed in your system: The Colts’ poor drafting record was covered up by their great offensive skill players, but their offensive line (other than center Jeff Saturday) has been patchwork. The last few years of first-round draft picks on offense and defense haven’t stuck, and it’s been evident that the Colts fans and management have been hoping and praying that Manning would never get hurt.
  • Succession planning: The Colts’ backup quarterbacks have historically had the easiest job in sports, as they get paid well to be with a successful franchise but never see the field (Manning takes nearly every single snap on offense for the entire year). By never getting any game action they don’t get any preparation for the possible occurrence that they’d have to replace Manning in an emergency situation. The Colts found out in the 2010 preseason that backup quarterback Curtis Painter was not ready to be a viable starting quarterback as they gave him opportunities to play the game at full speed, yet in 2011 had to press him into duty during the regular season with disastrous results. Proper training and experience could have helped Painter overcome not being ready this season for the full-time gig.
  • More succession planning: The Colts have secured the #1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and are expected to take quarterback Andrew Luck from Stanford University. If there’s anything the Colts have learned this season, it’s that Manning won’t be around forever and if they want to sustain previous years’ success they need a capable backup quarterback that will take the reins when Manning leaves. If they take Andrew Luck, he must receive regular season opportunities to play and learn how to win in the NFL.
  • During times of prosperity, work to get better: The Colts should have invested more in scouting and player development so they could get better in weak areas while they were still flourishing with their offensive skill players at their peak. The team missed great opportunities to learn and make mistakes without them being too costly in terms of team victories. Don’t stop trying to improve when the organization is doing well.
  • During times of trouble, work to get better: Even during down seasons, use the time to improve. Give new folks opportunities to try new ideas and see if they work. Use slow sales seasons for training (if you can afford it) because when sales pick up you will need your team to be at its very best. In down times, there’s little risk in trying new things because it’s entirely possible that the old things weren’t working well anyway. Train your sales staff. Improve your processes. Plan stadium maintenance. Update computer systems. Do whatever you need to do so that your team is as sharp as ever when everything is moving faster.
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