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Innovation in Cycling Series – Part Three

The 2016 Tour de France is currently providing a perfect illustration of the importance of innovation. With weeks one and two of the race behind us, let’s reflect further on how innovation is helping in professional cycle racing, and how, in business, we can learn more from the teams.

If you follow cycling, or if you read (‘Parts One and Two of this series’) then you will know that we’ve been taking a closer look at the innovation within the Tour, and seeking to understand what we can learn from it in the business world.

What if Your Carefully Worked-Out Plan is Shattered?

Stage 12 of the Tour de France on 14 July 2016 was always expected to be memorable – because it culminated in a mountain-top finish on Mont Ventoux, one of France’s most iconic landmarks. Furthermore, it was Bastille Day, a very important day in French culture. So for years, the tour organisers had carefully planned everything down to the last detail. So far, so normal. Then on the day of the stage, there was dangerously strong winds on the mountaintop, measured at over 100km/h.

How Good is your Contingency Plan?

So, if you’re the Tour de France organiser, what do you do if it’s far too windy for the public to watch a bike race atop Mont Ventoux– or for cyclists to safely race? You wouldn’t be worried, because you can shorten the stage by 5km, moving the finish line to the (slightly) sheltered part of the mountain below the tree line.

This was a good plan and the organisers thought they had everything sorted – but they’d overlooked one ingredient that turned out to be of vital importance…

All the crowds who were planning to gather for the top 5km of the stage were compressed into the last couple of km of the revised stage layout, but the organisers hadn’t set out enough crowd safety barriers. So, in something more closely resembling comic farce than world class sport, the crowd blocked the road as the leaders arrived – and the Yellow Jersey race leader (Chris Froome) plus two of his closest competitors crashed into the back of a stationary TV motorcycle, which had to stop because of the crowd. In the chaos, another motorcycle rode over Chris Froome’s bicycle, fracturing the frame and rendering it useless. Disaster! So what did he do next?

Chris Froome’s plan for the stage was in tatters, and yet he’d done nothing wrong. Did he give up? Did he complain to the authorities, or rant at the crowd? Did he rage at the unfairness of the situation? No – he adapted his plan by running up the hill, knowing where the finish line was and being sure his team would bring him a bike, once space opened through the crowds.

This shows an absolute winner’s instinct: keep heading towards your goal, and trust your team to play their part.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only a couple of minutes, Froome got another bike and made it over the line.

Adapting Your Plan

So what can we learn from this in this business world? First and foremost, the importance of flexibility in our plans. Life is uncertain, so our plans must acknowledge this, and we need to be prepared to flex as situations arise. This could be unexpected political changes (e.g. the recent UK Brexit referendum result), or technology trends (e.g. the arrival of next generation Virtual Reality headsets, or the new Pokemon game setting new standards in Augmented Reality).

Within Mitra Innovation, we strongly advocate the Agile Delivery Methodology as a proven method of blending adaptability with control. Our clients find that incremental deliveries every two weeks are generally much more impactful than a fewer number of larger releases with longer lead times. We recognise that not everyone is in love with Agile, and as with every other delivery methodology it has its fans and critics. We find that a major key to success is adapting its implementation to fit the specific client needs.

Within Mitra, we also aim to spot, and follow, key technology trends – another important element to help us adapt our plans. Enterprise Integration Services is a good example. We saw that the customer need was real and increasing – and recently emerging opensource solutions such as WS02 were gaining prominence in the marketplace. So we invested in building a centre of excellence, which is now servicing clients all around the world. And as new solutions emerge, we’ll continue to adapt to embrace these.

Next week sees the completion of the 2016 Tour de France, and the completion of this series. Part four isn’t written yet. I have a few ideas, but I’ll adapt my plan to fit the circumstances as they unfold.