I was recently watching a Youtube video of an interview with Sir Dave Brailsford of Olympic and Sky Cycling fame. I’ve heard and seen Dave speak before and love his passion and dedication. You certainly can’t knock his track record when it comes to getting the best out of people.
In the interview Sir Dave was talking about the concept of using marginal gains to achieve an objective – in his case, turn a bunch of average UK cyclists into elite champions.
The theory behind the idea of marginal gains is that if you break a big task down into its component parts and improve each part by a small amount then the sum of all improvements together would constitute a considerable gain.
Now something Sir Dave mentions in his interview is that of course you should focus on improving the obvious (big) things. But it’s also the unconsidered smaller periphery components that if improved would end up being the difference between good and elite. He used an example of what they did regarding the athletes’ pillows and beds. It was clear that his athletes travelled a lot and therefore slept in lots of hotels. Each hotel would have a different bed, different mattress and different pillows. He knew that sleep and recovery had a big influence on performance and if his athletes could get a consistent night’s sleep regardless of where they were it would help, just a little.
So to improve this situation each athlete was given a portable mattress and pillow designed to their body size and the way they slept. Then when the athletes checked into a new hotel they would replace the mattresses and pillows provided with their personalised versions. This was just one example of many small marginal improvements they implemented in their search for excellence.
So could we adopt this philosophy when looking at how to improve our website?
Well I don’t see why not. A website can be easily broken down into its component parts. In fact depending how granular you want to go you could end up with literally hundreds of features, functions, widgets, modules etc. Also don’t forget the human element of your website as there will be numerous people and processes involved. Additionally your content is an entity in itself and will constitute many components.
Typically when looking to improve an under performing website we consider changing the CMS, Information Architecture, branding, content, layouts etc..... This is all well and good and is likely to have a positive impact. But what we can learn from Sir Dave and his marginal gains philosophy is that a ruthless attention to detail is the difference between a good website and a great website.