Over the past few years the 2015 and 2017 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors have built what has been called a basketball “superteam”, culminating with last year’s acquisition of arguably one of the best players in the league, Kevin Durant. The already highly-talented Warriors’ team became almost unbeatable, and after their championship run many other teams in the league are scrambling to make adjustments to their own lineups in order to compete with the juggernaut the Warriors has become.
Whether they did it consciously or not, it is interesting to identify how the Warriors have utilized elements of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge” (SoPK) to contribute to their ascent to what could quite possibly be a sports dynasty for years to come. The SoPK ties together Dr. Deming’s seminal theories and teachings on quality, management and leadership into four interrelated areas: appreciation for a system, knowledge of variation, theory of knowledge and psychology. Let’s take a look at how the Warriors organization has employed these elements.
Appreciation for a System
Taking a systems approach results in management viewing the organization in terms of many internal and external interrelated connections and interactions, contrasted with discrete and independent departments or processes governed by various chains of command. When all the connections and interactions are working together to accomplish a shared aim, i.e. the NBA championship, the team can achieve tremendous results. The Warriors’ organization – especially the front office – has demonstrated this to perfection, by examining and orchestrating the best connections from coaching staff to bench players.
Knowledge of Variation
“Why did something go wrong?”
“Why are results so poor?”
“How can we repeat this success?”
The job of management is to not only ask these and other important performance-related questions, but also to find the right answers and take the right course of action. Dr. Deming provided the means for management to do just that through knowledge of variation. Distinguishing the difference between variation, as well as understanding its causes and predicting behavior, is key to management’s ability to properly remove problems or barriers in the system.
The Warriors, from management to individual players, are always reviewing and analyzing their system, looking to improve even the smallest of issues. This in turn leads to their continued success as their strengths get stronger and their weaknesses become assets.
Theory of Knowledge
While many of Dr. Deming’s ideas have found their way into other management theories, you rarely hear about the importance of understanding how people think, and act, based on what they believe they know to be true. That is core to a theory of knowledge.
For the Warriors, applying the theory of knowledge could mean beginning to question why they believed certain things and how they responded to ideas that were presented. By examining their thought process, they could see they were possibly being overly influenced by factors that shouldn’t be so important. This quite possibly contributed to refining their direction, goals and decision making.
Dr. Deming understood that when managing organizations of people, those people are fundamental to any attempt to improve. People are the source of value. People are what allow the organization to continually improve. The people in the organization are what will make it successful.
People are not cogs in a machine. Everyone brings extraordinary talents and abilities to the organization. Dr. Deming sought to maximize the value people bring to the organization. This requires giving them pride in their work, freedom to use their brain, tools to be effective and systems that allow people to practice continual improvement.
The Warriors exemplify this understanding the most of all the four points. They recognize and celebrate the unique value that each and every person in their organization brings to the table. The entire organization works together toward the common goal of winning championships, engaging the contributions of everyone from the top down.
So while this is a very simplistic view of the much more complex System of Profound Knowledge, the culmination of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s work on management, it does help us to see how utilizing these practices, even in a sports team’s organization, can breed optimal success. The Golden State Warriors have proven the soundness of the SoPK, whether they intended to or not.