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Go Lean!

A New Twist on a Tried and True Activity

Opportunity

You are getting ready to begin the "Introduction to Lean" training for the new employees at your facility. You like starting off your training events with something active, both to get their attention early and to start building from the beginning the understanding that teamwork is highly valued at your workplace. You prefer to use activities which directly reinforce the concepts being taught and learned.

What

A high energy, low prop initiative (team problem-solving exercises) tweaked to introduce and/or reinforce basic concepts of Lean Manufacturing (or Lean Office or other Lean work system).

Overview

Go-Lean engages the learners in attempting to improve a system. In successive attempts, your group practices Lean thinking to improve the speed at which one ball travels through the entire system.

"Lean" is a continuous improvement approach that seeks to maximize customer value by eliminating waste throughout the system.

Group Size: 8-20

Time: 30-60 Minutes

Props: one foam or fleece ball (a 9" round nerf ball works well and is readily available at most major retailers).

Instructions

  1. Ask your group to form a circle. You will also form part of the circle with ball in hand.
  2. Explain: "I'm going to start by tossing this ball to someone else in the circle. If you receive it, toss it to someone else in the circle not immediately on either side of you. That person will toss it to another person who has not yet received it and again not immediately on either side of him or her. Throwing continues until the last person tosses the ball back to me. Remember who you tossed to because we will try to recreate the pattern in the next round. Any questions?"
  3. Toss the ball to someone across from you. The cycle continues until the ball comes back to you. Repeat one more time so that everyone is clear who they toss the ball to and from whom they receive it. The ball must follow the same pattern both times.
  4. Explain: "We are now going to see how quickly we can send this one ball from start to finish through the system. The only stipulation is that the ball must pass through the system in the same order that we have already established. [Remember these words: how you state this guideline will define the boundaries for how this task can be accomplished.] I am going to step out of the system now, so the person that I tossed to will become both the beginning and the end person. Any questions? I will start time as soon as the ball leaves the first person, and I will stop time when it returns to him/her. You may begin when ready."
  5. Time their first attempt. Applaud their attempt, whatever it is (one second per participant or longer is quite normal). Prompt them to identify, and then eliminate, waste in the system. Allow for planning, additional attempts and more planning.
  6. At some point the group will ask you how fast this can be done, or how fast you've seen it done, or what the ultimate goal is. Remind them that the goal in Lean (never quite reached but always in view) is a perfect process, with only value added steps and no waste.
  7. Continue until the group attains the elusive "warp speed" or ceases to be actively engaged in trying to reach it. Process the activity.

Facilitator Notes:

  1. Typical sources of waste identified in the system include
    1. unnecessary space between people, i.e., they will modify the system by moving closer together, changing the position of the participants in the circle, and moving out of a circle to a line or some other shape. During the activity, they will realize (usually by asking you) that nowhere in your guidelines did you stipulate that participants had to stay in the circle arrangement in which they started. During the activity, don't suggest this information, let them discover it. THIS MAKES FOR A KEY LEARNING POINT. In Lean, the first big learning is that we are ALL responsible for identifying waste and working to eliminate it. Make sure that this comes out in your debrief.
    2. unnecessary throwing / handling of the ball. The group will change how the ball moves through the system, from a toss to a hand off to a roll across hands or along the ground.

  2. If the group presses you for a real answer to the question "How fast should this be done?" the answer for most groups of 20 or less is less than 2 seconds. Once the group learns of the goal that they are trying to reach, expect responses like "no way" and "are you kidding?" This will however alert them to the fact that the whole system needs to fundamentally change. When you are debriefing, review how knowing this goal changed their approach to the problem.
  3. How creatively you allow the group to interpret its objective and the stipulation is a function of your assessment of the group and your learning goal. We have had groups ask if they just put the ball on the ground and then touch it in succession, does this satisfies the objective? [Does it? Pause here and reflect ...] Our response in this case is usually to ask the group to answer its own question. Does the ball actually pass through the system in the correct order? Most groups usually choose to continue to seek another solution, and we applaud their "thinking outside of the box" even if it didn't exactly provide the solution - it shows movement in the right direction.

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