Football and lean: back to basics

Friday, November 10, 2017

Master Black Belt, Tremco,  AME Cleveland Lean Consortia,

Ask any football coach about a winning philosophy and most of the time you will hear something like “we need to execute on the basics – blocking and tackling!!!!!"  At a recent sales conference, my company brought in an ex-NFL lineman as a motivational speaker to discuss his model for long term career success. His career lasted 15 years in the NFL, an extraordinarily long career for a lineman. His daily routine consisted of practicing the basics – how to hike a football and block - every day during the wee hours of the morning. Every day, every morning, period, no exceptions, no excuses.

How do we apply this logic to implementing lean? Often times we want to run out and try the latest lean breakthroughs at our place of employment to try to “move the needle” again. Or we get consumed in our most recent kaizen. Maybe we are busy trying to execute a tactical hoshin plan. Given this scenario, it’s easy to overlook the basics.

So what are the lean “basics?” I suppose you could make an argument that the basics, blocking and tackling, could be summed up as maybe 5S or standard work? The argument may be that a workplace must be cleaned up and organized, with concrete standards in place, only then can true improvement can be made. I can almost buy that, it makes sense – but there exists another component, I believe.

That component is people….

An often-overlooked basic principle is referred to as “people-centric” lean. People-centric lean is where people are pursuing process excellence – everyone, everyday including getting in touch with your people, know what they do, listen and build trust!  Watch, learn, get their input, understand the process and current state. Then, after you feel you have a comprehensive understanding of the process and the ever so important people that are part of the process, march forward. Do your PDCA’s, 5S events, line balancing, etc.

My argument is that the basics of lean- the blocking and tackling – is people-centric and starts with you, the CI Leader.  I believe you enable the right culture by leading with humility, knowing your people, and knowing the process. I challenge you to look at your own Leader Standard Work and make a checkoff box that looks something like this:

Back to Basics

  • Listen to 3 operators today about how things are going
  • Learn something new about a process every day

But don’t just talk – address their concerns! By doing so, you will gradually build up your “trust” bank account, and also your knowledge of the process. You build your own value as well.

So, get back to basics. Try this everyday for two weeks, then maybe discover other people-centric “basics” that are the underlying support structure for lean. For example, discuss team accomplishments and collective gains, and remind people what they have accomplished.

Then go out and call a “trips 32 double wing left on 3,” a west coast offensive play, and score a lean touchdown!

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