Marginal Gains: A blueprint for the best in the business

By Steven Cox | 10th June 2016 | 15 min read

Marginal Gains maestros, made in the UK

On the grandest stages of world sport, victory is often decided by the smallest of margins.

We’ve all been captivated by elite athletes at the peak of their powers as they’ve eked out every last drop of sweat while pushing themselves to the limit and beyond.

Such victories are often put down to luck, chance or coincidence, and while those things may play their part in all sporting engagements, they can’t be predicted nor relied upon at the preparatory stage.

What is guaranteed to make a difference on game day is the extra 1% of effort expended on making improvements to multiple aspects of training, planning and preparation regimes.

It’s these small yet decisive uplifts across the board that separate first place from second; they're responsible for a sprinter shaving 1/100th of a second off a personal best, or delaying the onset of lactic acid for one last counter attack in the 119th minute of extra time.

Powering British success

Some of the greatest examples of marginal gains strategies were devised right here in the UK. They were key to both Sir Alex Ferguson’s 20+ year reign at the top of European club football with Manchester United, and British Cycling/Team Sky’s decade-long world domination thanks to their former performance director, Sir Dave Brailsford.

In both cases, gains were made in every conceivable department, no matter how minor they may have seemed. From the base fabric of a cyclist's skinsuit to the recruitment of specialist podiatrists and ocular scientists as part of a sports science team, no stone was left unturned.

A multi-industry methodology

Crucially, these methods aren’t restricted to the realm of professional sports.

In the realm of big business, increasing numbers of companies are following the marginal gains approach – largely as it can be informed by the huge sets of digitised data now available to them. Google alone conducts over 10,000 data-driven experiments a year, and aeroplane manufacturers learn from every move their planes make to refine their engineering processes.

With the right minor amendments and tweaks, your practice can gain a tangible advantage over its competitors and achieve its own major victories.

How this sporting philosophy can transform your practice

Accountancy is changing. Technology has led to the automation of the collection, processing and consumption of data, relegating the importance of a range of accounting services.

Meanwhile, the biggest accountancy practices are on the hunt for new revenue streams, explicitly targeting SMEs. Against this backdrop, the laws that influence the industry appear to be in constant flux, and, consequently, the question for practices becomes: how do we adapt to the new environment, see off the threat of our rivals, retain customers and add new ones?

The simple answer is to adopt a strategic approach and combine it with the right software: build a portfolio of services more suited to the needs of modern clients, ensuring that service levels and the client experience are so great that there’s no good reason for anyone to embark on a relationship with a rival.

You can find out how to effectively go about this by subscribing to our Marginal Gains series of free eBooks, guides and resources.

The journey continues…

Next up, we'll be looking at how improving the effectiveness of performance monitoring can instantly impact practice efficiency and give you a vital advantage over your competition.

Meanwhile, why not take a look at our previous entries:

- Little victories win the biggest wars

- Accountants are carving out a new role


About the author

Steven Cox

Chief Evangelist

Steve is Chief Evangelist of IRIS; a technologist and chartered accountant (FCCA) who looks at how technology can simplify the modern working environment.

He joined IRIS in 2002, who’s career at IRIS has spanned many areas of the business including Customer Support, Engineering and Product Management. His most recent previous roles at IRIS include Senior Product Director and Interim CTO.

Steve has over 18 years of experience in technology and accounting which he uses to work closely with customers, software companies, accounting/governing bodies and the government to champion the digital transformation of UK Education organisations, SMEs and Accountants.

In Steve’s current role as Chief Evangelist, he has looked across the globe at how technology and legislation is changing the roles and requirements professionals in the workplace and looking to the future to predict how their roles will further evolve.