How Continuous Planning Won The Pro Football Championship

Andy Reid would fit right in as a finance leader. 

As the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he’s guided his team through unexpected injuries and huge deficits to the promised land of pro football’s highest honor: the championship trophy. In the final match, his Chiefs were down 20-10 with seven minutes remaining — his star quarterback playing the worst game of his career, his defense getting shredded — but Coach Reid and his staff were ready. 

They planned for it. 

Andy Reid is a continuous planner, and a good one. His victorious performance this past season was a master class in continuous planning principles. By using dynamic planning and accelerated planning cycles, he gained a competitive advantage against the better-resourced and more talented opposition

Dynamically Planning the Fourth Quarter Comeback 

Early in the game, the Chiefs ran a play that didn’t seem to work. They had one receiver on one side and three on the other — a 3-1 formation — and the 49ers covered it aggressively, resulting in no gain. 

The Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, noticed the aggression and the specific coverage pattern. He told his coach on the sideline everything he was seeing, in a cross-functional display of collaboration. 

With seven minutes left in the game, down ten points, on a 3rd and 15, coach Reid dynamically planned by taking his quarterback’s data point from a seemingly failed execution cycle to inform his next decision. He called the complement play, where the receivers lined up in the same formation but ran different routes halfway through, completely deceiving the over-aggressive defense. 

44 yards later, Tyreek Hill brought in the deep pass, and the Chiefs were off on their comeback rally. Organizational IQ won the day. 

Accelerated Planning Cycles Keep The Defense A Step Ahead: 

Reid’s defensive lieutenant, Steve Spagnuolo, realized that something wasn’t working for his unit. The opposing offense had scored 20 points by the fourth quarter, and if they wanted to capitalize on their late-game offensive success, they needed to stop the 49ers from responding. 

Spagnuolo noticed that the 49ers’ best pass catcher, league-leading George Kittle, was playing significantly better than his peers while his initial plan of zone coverage was giving up around six yards a carry. Instead of sticking with the plan, he quickly planned a new approach: devote extra resources to stopping Kittle while switching to man coverage in order to prevent the run. 

The 49ers wouldn’t score for the rest of the game. The extra resources rendered Kittle ineffective as a passcatcher, so the 49ers coach had to keep him inside as a blocker. They couldn’t respond fast enough to Spagnuolo’s adjustment, and when it came down to the wire, they had nowhere to run, forced to run high-risk deep-pass plays that ended up failing. 

Spagnuolo’s planning cycles were faster than his competition, giving his team an advantage. 

Continuously Planning For More Championships

The Kansas City Chiefs made agile and confident decisions — much like a continuously planning organization, they were able to get the right data at the right level to the right people, and they quickly adjusted their plans before their opposition could. They operated like a team that was using a cloud-based FP&A platform, while the 49ers seemed to be still using spreadsheets

The night of their victory, Andy Reid certainly celebrated his incredible accomplishment. But he knows as well as anyone that the planning process for next season’s championship begins now.

A few years ago, 49ers champion quarterback Steve Young came to Planful’s user conference, where he told a story that employees repeat to this day. 

The morning after the San Francisco 49ers won the championship back in 1995, the story goes, Young drove back to the team’s practice facility to get something from his locker. When he pulled into the parking lot, he saw star wide receiver and the team’s highest-scoring player, Jerry Rice, running sprints on the field, at 8 AM, in preparation for the next season. 

Champions, in pro football and in business, know that planning never stops. 

It’s continuous.

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