Where I Got My Start In Lean (And Sports) – Part 2

Posted on March 4, 2013 | in Baseball, Lean Tools, Process Mapping, Small Business, Sports, Standardized Work | by
Chad Walters South Bend Silver Hawks Swoop Mascot

Hey, it’s not like the mascot suit is gonna don itself.

(To see Part 1 of Where I Got My Start In Lean click here. This is Part 2.)

As I indicated in the prior post, I ended up in both Lean and sports almost by accident or in a very roundabout way. Today I’m going to talk more about how I ended up following the sports industry niche.

While working as an engineer in Auburn Hills, Michigan, I started a side project to write album and concert reviews for a website and conduct interviews with musicians. While I was primarily doing it for free concert tickets and yet-to-be-released albums, the metro Detroit area with its ripe music scene and abundance of great venues appeared to be a great place to create a startup online media business.

Butch Walker Magic Bag Ferndale Michigan

Butch Walker, one of my musician interviewees

Unfortunately I knew nothing about business, let alone starting one up. To follow through with this venture I left Michigan to get my MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Indiana featured a great pseudo-extracurricular “Academy” within the MBA program called the Kelley School of Business MBA Sports & Entertainment Academy.

Kelley MBA Sports Entertainment Academy

 This program paired the highly-regarded Kelley MBA with a special added curriculum focused on business strategies in sports and entertainment organizations. While many schools feature master’s degree programs with sports management, the Academy carries all of the business education of a top-20 traditional MBA program PLUS the special sports and entertainment component on top.

Two things I learned very quickly in the Kelley MBA program – one, my vision for an online music media platform in an already-saturated Detroit market was a poor one, and two, this was a great opportunity to adjust my vision and follow another passion of mine – sports. As a result of the Academy experience, three great opportunities came my way.

First, I spent a summer with the South Bend Silver Hawks as the Assistant Box Office Manager. Based on the training I received on using the ProVenue ticketing software, I took advantage of an opportunity to create a standardized training program with process flow charts and work instructions for training of ticketing operators who were turning over frequently. This project helped streamline the continuous training that was formerly conducted over and over by the Box Office Manager. (Yes, I also had my moments in the sun as Swoop the Silver Hawks mascot.)

Atlanta Braves Logo

Next, I worked with a team of marketing consultants for the Atlanta Braves to optimize the team’s season ticket package portfolio. Based on competitive analysis, benchmarking, and data analysis we showed how the Braves could achieve a $4.3M (10%) gain in season ticket revenue through a streamlined portfolio of packages and a targeted sales methodology toward specific market segments that were largely unmonitored.

elmore sports group

I also worked as a business management systems consultant for the Elmore Sports Group, an ownership group for six minor league baseball teams out west that included the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and the San Antonio Missions. I helped them move from six disparate business management processes to standardize their six teams’ business management systems that reduced manual management and labor required for sales data analysis.

After these short term opportunities I moved on to Eaton Corporation where I really started to click with Lean and continuous improvement.

Down the line I began to see opportunities for business process improvement in sports operations – slow concessions lines, errors in orders, and a general lack of business sophistication in the lower levels. While many strong business organizations were adopting and implementing strategic business management practices, sports continued to stagnate in the “that’s how we’ve always done it” mindset.

Concession Stand Time Studies

While over the last few years I’ve started to see improvements in business analysis with sales and sponsorships, I found that there really wasn’t much emphasis put on operations management and process improvement or there were no outlets for obtaining that business knowledge.

There was no dedicated Lean organization aiming to assist sports organizations in optimizing their operations for the sake of safety, marketing, customer service, or cost improvements. Sports are essentially small businesses that sell a very unique product – an experience.

This is where Lean Blitz steps in. Lean Blitz combines the experience in Lean and continuous improvement implementation for business process improvement and manufacturing floor processes and the knowledge of the inner workings of a sports organization and its key business processes that generate funds or consume resources. We see the connection of waste activity reduction and optimized customer experience while leveraging employee knowledge and experience to make business processes operate better.

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