Guest Post: NFL Football and #Lean

Posted on February 7, 2014 | in Football, Manufacturing, Sports, Toyota Way | by

tom bradyToday we have a guest blog post from my friend, fellow Lean practitioner, and fellow blogger Christina Kach. She has been a guest blogger for Lean Blitz in the past, showing what Lean practitioners can learn from sports. Take it away, Christina!

We hear stories of organizations like Toyota who are known for Lean being a part of how they do things – nothing extra to add on to their daily work, just ingrained in the culture. Those stories are frequently followed up by stories of companies who are struggling to truly embrace Lean thinking in their businesses.

While watching a Sunday afternoon NFL football game last month, an insight from one of the game commentators captured my attention. He reflected on the team’s ability to adjust their game plan, play by play, during the course of the game to account for the other team’s strategy and performance. Football teams come into their games each week with a game plan. This accounts for the knowledge they have of their opponents, their own obstacles (for example, a key player being out for that week), and the plays they plan to execute in order to win the game. More than that, the team is aligned on a True North vision of “play well and win” – or so I’m guessing would be the main goal week to week. Though some players may be more confident in their team’s ability to successfully execute, it’s unlikely anyone in the locker room is pep-talking “let’s get out there and lose this one today!”

For any company providing a service, whether assembly on a production floor or patients in healthcare, they have a “game plan” for accomplishing their True North goals.  Where companies falter is adapting that game plan during the course of the game to tailor to unexpected conditions or obstacles. Where a football team may have set up double coverage on a particularly strong opposing receiver, they would adapt that plan if the player was to leave the game with an injury – as double coverage on his replacement may no longer be the strongest strategy.

With all those years of experience, players learn to read the opponent and adjust at the line of scrimmage to adapt for what they learned in a previous play. Conversely, how many times have you yelled at the TV with something like “Stop passing to X – he drops it every time!” or “They are blitzing! That is their blitz set up!” That is a team not adapting; like running into a wall time and time again, hoping for a different outcome each time.

Football teams are not perfect and make mistakes. Quarterbacks will be sacked, tackles will be missed, and catches will be dropped. They learn from these mistakes. Now, not every mistake adjustment is perfect and pays off. There may be times when the same mistake keeps occurring or something isn’t being executed as effectively as needed. It is at this point that you’ve identified areas to coach. Post-game, coaches can see weak areas to focus on during training that week so they can continue getting better.

When did you ever see a football team go to camp and practice all summer, then never practice again until the next year? No, they practice all season. Just like you are never done learning, you don’t just learn once and you are done, you continuing learning your whole life long. If youngsters learned the game of football in one day’s practice, and never worked to learn it more afterwards, there’d be no NFL.

Other Lean techniques are also practiced around the NFL. There are mentor/mentee relationships between players and coaches. Plays on the field are not just about quantity, you need quality plays to win the game. The players, like employees, are empowered to make changes and get better. When a manager is unhappy with an employees performance, they may just do it themselves in a “if you wan something done, you do it yourself” fit. Coaches can’t get in the game and run plays if they are unhappy with their team. They have to coach and empower the players. They will celebrate a win, while also staying focused on improving for the next game.

All these things just happen as part of the football culture. It isn’t extra. The teams that execute these principles typically end up with wining seasons at the end of the year.

Christina Kach

Christina Kach is a continuous improvement senior analyst with a finance company in Massachusetts. Christina is a former Continuous Improvement Lead for a Government Defense company and held her first Lean position as in intern in 2006. Since then she has continued to seek out varied roles of increasing responsibility and actively pursues further Lean education. Christina holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University and is SME Lean Bronze Certified. 
Christina invites you to connect with her via Twitter (@ChristinaKach) or at her blog for young professionals
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