The Long and Subtle path to success: project performance insights from ocean racing
Those of you who tuned in to the epic finale of the Volvo Ocean Race last Sunday may think that the whole race boiled down to a frantic sprint towards The Hague won by Dongfeng Race Team.
However, it would both hugely oversimplify their achievement and be unfair to the other teams to only focus on the last leg.
People tend to remember the winners and quickly forget that the journey to victory is a long and well-prepared one.
In many respects, what Dongfeng Race Team and the other teams participating in the Volvo Ocean Race did, epitomises what a lot of businesses face in the pursuit of their own successes: fierce competition, skilled and resourceful opponents and a constantly changing environment.
So, is there something that can be learned from their success?
The Volvo Ocean Race is sailed on one-design boats, meaning that everybody uses the same kit. It makes getting the most out of your boat and of your crew a pivotal success factor.
What were some of the key levers Dongfeng Race Team pulled to be in a position to clinch the final victory in this 9 month-long race?
Dongfeng Race Team spent a lot of time getting to know, measure and calibrate the behaviour and performance of their boat, before and during the race, identifying improvements to the settings, tuning and trimming until the very last day of the race. They were in continuous learning and improvement mode. This process was fed through the logging of standard race parameters, but also by the observations and manual inputs from the entire crew every time something was modified on the boat all along the race.
Getting the best possible performance was not just the responsibility of the skipper or the tactician, everybody’s actions were quickly linked back to the boat’s behaviour to reinforce positive actions and eliminate weaknesses.
As a result of this continuous improvement drive, the crew even discovered counter-intuitive boat settings, which in some instances made a crucial difference to their perfrmance.
The team also made a conscious effort to analyse other boats’performance, during and between the race legs. Observation of the competitors was a key activity on board, when they were in the vicinity of other boats, as was the analysis of the race tracker and onboard images published by all the teams during the race, in order to understand how others were tuning their boat, how they were thinking and learn from it.
Dongfeng Race Team was not only composed of highly skilled sailors, they were led by a leader who, in many respects, is an exceptional people’s person, that managed to get the best out of his team, because he made them feel able to make mistakes and improve. His authenticity, his sincerity and his humanity bonded the team in such way, that they were able deliver the kind of performance that was required until the last moment to close a gap of 50 nautical miles during the final leg to cross the finish line 3 miles ahead of their direct competitors for the top spot on the podium.
The team has also been very cautious to manage people and equipment fatigue very carefully, so as to avoid injuries or any major failure, which some other teams have been confronted with. In doing so, they have managed to almost always arrive amongst the first 3 teams at each leg. This regularity in performance all along the race was a critical success factor for the final victory.
All of the above and a careful project preparation started more than 2 years before the race created the foundation to make the audacious, but calculated move enabling them to win the Volvo Ocean Race in style.
ALL4ONE consulting has followed Dongfeng Race Team all along the Volvo Ocean Race and has analysed their performance in light of its similiarity with today’s business competitive environment. A lot of what Dongfeng Race Teams and the other teams have done right during the Volvo Ocean Race is also valid to make business projects and teams more competitive.
Find out more about how ocean racing can enhance corporate performance here.
Picture credits: © Dongfeng Race Team