Nick Saban Just Might Be The Ultimate Lean Practitioner

February 2, 2017

Vulcan has been steadily embracing a Lean culture in recent years and has yielded big results.  That got us thinking about other people that have embraced Lean and achieved big things… we may have found one in the most unlikely place… college football.

Okay, okay, hear me out. I know it’s a sensationalist title, but let me explain.

“The Process.”

This is the central point and key mantra of Nick Saban, the unyielding, unwavering, and typically uncongenial coach of the University of Alabama football team. The greatest coach in the modern era of college football continually tells his players and staff to put their faith in “the process.”

Saban’s process is centralized around steadily getting better every day, every game, and every season. No single player is expected to carry the team by himself and no single player is expected to immediately be the shining star. Most notably, he believes that people who are more focused on the end-goal of winning are LESS successful than those who focus on getting better every day.

Last year, after yet another national championship, Saban had the perfect quote to describe his process: “It’s about committing yourself to being the best you can be on that particular day. Improvement is a steady march and you have to be committed to it.” You could put that on a motivational poster in the breakroom at Toyota and it would fit right in.

And the man HATES waste. He eats the same thing for breakfast (two oatmeal cream pies) and lunch (salad with turkey and cherry tomatoes) every day so he can eliminate the time it takes to make decisions that don’t make his team better. He has someone park his car for him in the mornings so he can eliminate the 30 seconds it takes to do it himself. He even complained that the National Championship game (which is the end goal of the process) cost him two days of time that he could have spent recruiting new players and improving next year’s team. And for a legend, he’s surprisingly open to change.

All of this is a Lean mindset (albeit to some extremes). Focusing on continuous improvement? √ Eliminating waste? √ Focusing on process? √  Steadily marching to perfection? √

And who can argue with him? Here are some of his results:

  • More national championships than any current coach
  • Highest win percentage since his tenure started at Alabama (82%)
  • Best record since his tenure started at Alabama (105-19)
  • Most former players currently playing in the NFL (64)

Understandably, there’s plenty of areas where Saban runs contrary to having a Lean mindset. How good is he at empowering others to identify and solve their problems? He’s borderline autocratic with his staff and its unknown to what degree he values people or if “the process” trumps interest in people.

Still, it’s another example of how embracing a Lean culture can provide immense success. While most college football teams struggle to achieve consistent success, Nick Saban’s Lean-influenced “Process” will continue to grind on in pursuit of perfection.

Lean has proven to be a huge advantage over all of Vulcan’s competitors… all except Nick Saban, of course.

Author: Zach Russell