Addressing The Problem With The NBA Slam Dunk Contest

john wall slam dunk contest

John Wall “won” the NBA Slam Dunk Contest yesterday but the odd format changes overshadowed his victory.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has been a cornerstone event during the NBA All-Star Weekend for years – originating in the NBA in 1984, it celebrates captivating physical feats and showmanship through impressive dunks with flair. However, interest in the contest – from NBA stars and fans alike – has dwindled since the early 1990s. From Wikipedia (yeah, I know):

Initially, it was because many players lost interest in competing; some cited concerns of injuries, while others felt that the full repertoire of humanly possible dunks had already been exhausted. With most of the superstars – (Michael) Jordan, (Dominique) Wilkins, (Clyde) Drexler, etc. – choosing not to participate, lesser-known players began to compete, leading to either watered-down competitions or surprises.

Let’s assume those reasons (from the 1990s) are true. The NBA has changed the format of the contest over the years that only sometimes addressed the suggested causes of disinterest – they found ways to reduce the number of dunks needed to win (minimizing injury risk), they allowed unlimited dunk attempts to complete a round (a la Nate Robinson) so that new innovative dunks could be attempted, they created a tournament format with head-to-head battles, they allowed fan voting for winners via text messaging, and then this year they introduced a conference vs. conference format.

Well all these changes should continually make the event better, right? Well, it didn’t. Last night’s event, with the format consisting of three rounds – a battle round between conferences, head-to-head battles between players from each conference, then a final three-way battle between remaining representatives from each conference to determine which conference wins. Way confusing, and a failure in the fact that the three players from the Eastern Conference swept their second round matchups, making the third round unnecessary. (Fans used text message voting to select the dunker of the night, a title given to Washington’s John Wall.)


michael jordan slam dunk contest

Enough about last night’s disaster that now makes everyone wonder what the NBA is doing with the Slam Dunk Contest. The NBA is probably asking “How do we fix the NBA Slam Dunk Contest?” and they’re likely missing the point. Each format change has been an attempt to drum up interest and participation, but the results haven’t been ideal because root causes of disinterest haven’t been addressed.

However, let’s look at this through a continuous improvement lens by asking some better key questions.

- What is the actual purpose of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest?
- What is/are the problem(s) the NBA should be looking to solve with the Slam Dunk Contest?
- What are the root causes of those identified problems?

Starting with the first question, I was unable to find a purpose statement online for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. I’d like to think it is a contest for the best and most creative slam dunks possible. Format aside, who should be allowed to participate? Should the participation be limited to NBA All-Stars elected for the All-Star Game? Or should participation be opened up beyond the NBA? There are probably some great dunkers playing in Europe, China, or even on the playgrounds who are high-flying acrobatic athletes but aren’t good enough to play in the NBA. NBA teams are smarter these days – roster sizes are finite and greater priority is placed on other in-game skills such as rebounding and defense as opposed to dunking ability. Also bear in mind that this is a contest and not a 48-minute game that counts in the league standings. There are likely lots of people in the world who can dunk well but are bad at basketball – this is a competition in which they can excel!

Early suggestions about primary problems with the dunk contest include low fan interest and low star player participation. I would include sponsor interest in this list too, because reduced interest by stars and fans means that this marketing property is much less valuable. Also, lower fan interest is most heavily caused by low star player interest. So let’s say that the biggest problem with the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is low star player participation.

Now we look at the root causes for low star player participation. Injury risk is a top reason. NBA All-Star Weekend now lists a whole bunch of events besides the game itself – shooting competitions, skills competition, rookies vs. sophomores game, etc. Maybe those events are pulling star players away from the dunk contest. Other causes could be lack of valuable incentive (financial or otherwise), lack of creativity (we’ve exhausted all the permutations of propless dunks), too much creativity with use of props, odd formats, the need for a mid-season break from basketball activities, or even fear of embarrassment if stars don’t make their dunks.

Instead of directly addressing each of these root causes and even validating them by polling star players across the league (which they may have done but failed to address concerns), the league has fiddled with formatting that leave fans and players confused and takes away from the competition element.

Yes, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is really a meaningless contest that has no effect on the NBA championship, but if the NBA is going to try to improve a big event it holds annually they should at least try to improve it properly.

Other fun NBA Slam Dunk Contest articles:
- SBNation’s coverage
-’s coverage
- Slam Dunk Contest at Wikipedia
- Deadspin’s coverage
- – new format leaves players, fans, and television confused
- – format overshadows great dunks

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Guest Post: NFL Football and #Lean

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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The Super Bowl Public Transit Gaffe

super bowl new york train transit crowd

The crowds leaving the Super Bowl on Sunday were just as big and just as delayed as those trying to get to the game.

One of the big issues with New York hosting the Super Bowl was the intense security and limited access to the stadium grounds (no cars allowed, can’t walk to the stadium) and how that would increase the use of public transit like buses, trains, and the subway for fans going to the game. It was clear that the league was not prepared for the flow of patrons using the limited transportation before the game, but what was even worse was the league’s failure to not quickly learn and adapt to the known demand of transportation needs after the game.

First, before the game the league gave NJ Transit (the trains) bad information based off of a bad estimate.

It’s the Super Bowl, and you’d hope the folks running the trains would have seen the crowd coming—especially since round-trip tickets from New York were $10.50, compared to $51 for a shuttle bus. But NJ Transit was caught off-guard, in part to poor communication from the NFL. The league told NJ Transit to expect between 12,000 and 15,000 riders—they got double.

This was a major screw-up on the NFL’s part. It was overseeing the shuttle bus program, and knew how many fans had bought tickets.

The league justified its poor estimate with some really, really poor math. How can this be expected and permitted from a high ranking NFL official? Here is NFL VP of Business Operations Eric Grubman:

“My understanding is that at some point in time Saturday night late or Sunday morning, the online reservations, the total number of tickets sold by New Jersey Transit, was 25, 30 percent, 40 percent of what actually ended up using it. So just imagine that surge of ticket selling and how hard that is to plan for. What I believe happened is a lot of people didn’t make up their minds until the last minute as to how they were going to get there.”

But the NFL knew how many people had purchased shuttle bus ticket and how many people received a limited number of parking passes for the game. So wouldn’t the league have been able to do the math about the number of remaining people likely to take the train? Not exactly, Grubman said.

“When I do the math with the number of (parking) permits and passes that were sold to vehicles that could accommodate multiple people, really rough numbers – 1,100 buses,” he said. “Those buses are of different sizes. If they hold between 40 and 50 people fully occupied, do the math. So 50,000 plus in a bus expected, and 15,000 just for round numbers at the upper end on New Jersey Transit. You get to 65 (thousand). It’s 82 (thousand, the capacity of MetLife Stadium). It doesn’t seem like it’s out of whack.

So the NFL planned for and communicated 65K fans’ worth of transportation when 82K fans WOULD HAVE TO USE THE LIMITED TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS.

If anything, overestimate. It’s the Super Bowl – you are practically printing money. If you don’t use buses, so be it. The league’s cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue generated from tickets and sponsorship sales.

And all of this was learned as fans were arriving to the game. A steady flow of patrons arriving before gametime but not all getting there at the same time. It would be even worse after the game with everyone leaving at once, wouldn’t it?

YES. From Deadspin (those infamous feather-rufflers!):

Despite knowing how bad the situation had been getting to the game, NJ Transit was unable to do much to accommodate the massive crowd all trying to leave MetLife Stadium at the same time. Announcements on the scoreboard and over the PA system urged fans to stay in their seats rather than head to the overcrowded train station. Twenty buses were finally brought in around midnight, thinning the crowd by about 1,000, but NJ Transit said it still had to deal with 33,000 fans trying to get home.

It wasn’t until 1 a.m., more than three hours after the end of the game, that the last fans were able to leave the Meadowlands.

1:00 a.m. What a disaster. The league, the NJ Transit, subways, bus dispatch, they all had three hours to figure out a transportation plan for the end of the game and not much was done. No PDSA was implemented.

So apparently the league thinks there’s a lot to learn from this. Grubman again:

“The first question we would ask is: How do we plan for moving double the number of people through Secaucus Junction?” Grubman said. “And how do we plan for multiple backups of buses? We are getting pretty good at contingency planning. We need to put more elements into that contingency planning. A week or two ago, we were all talking about weather contingency planning. We had lots of plans for all the things that we couldn’t control related to weather. Next time, we’ll have lots of plans for all the things that we can’t control in planning and anticipate related to transportation.”

How do you figure, Mr. Grubman? This is the crown jewel sporting event in your sport, and the lack of preparedness is inexcusable. It’s not up to Mother Nature whether contingency plans go into place here. This was poor planning for logistics. Between the transportation problems and Bruno Mars, the game really took a backseat to everything going on around it and that is a supreme disappointment.

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Around The Bases: Super Bowl Concessions Edition

kitchen sink sausage sportservice

The Kitchen Sink Sausage from Sportservice will be available at the Super Bowl. (New York Jets)

The concessions available at the Super Bowl will be fantastic, and the outsourced food service provider Delaware North is preparing for the onslaught of concessions demand.

The Buffalo, N.Y., company has hired more than 3,000 food workers and 200 chefs to ensure that football’s biggest day of the year goes off without a hitch.

One thing that really bothers me about concessions stands and vendors preparing for big events is how much of that “food preparation” is done well in advance.

Having over 21,000 hot dogs and 75,000 chicken tenders readily available for fans throughout a 3-4 hour game will be a challenge…a challenge that many teams attack by cooking food early and keeping in large chest warmers to maintain temperature instead of having standardized processes of cooking food as quickly but properly as possible when it is ordered. This means you could be eating a hot dog prepared a couple hours earlier.

That’s fine (kind of) if the hot dog has maintained the proper internal temperature for that duration, as specified by the health inspector. But once food falls below that threshold (if that heated chest warmer door is constantly opened and closed, letting all the hot air out) it is actually a violation to serve it.

This is Delaware North’s first Super Bowl and they may have some rough data on food demand, but I would be more judgmental of their ability to readily prepare food on demand instead of cooking in advance and storing it all.

Not all teams do this – I know of a minor league team who is very good about preparing a lot of the food to order instead of relying on the chest warmers – and Delaware North is staffed by chefs, while most teams don’t employ trained foodservice operators in their concession stands. I’m not at the Super Bowl so I don’t know how Delaware North will provide foodservice to the fans tonight.

There will be more about foodservice in the coming months, in preparation for the baseball season. But for now, enjoy the Super Bowl.


What really helps the Super Bowl with concessions sales is the fact that there is no tailgating this year at the Super Bowl, meaning hordes of hungry fans will be rolling into the stadium to splurge on those heavily-marked-up food items.

“You will be allowed to have food in your car and have drink in your car,” (Super Bowl committee CEO Al) Kelly said. “And provided you’re in the boundaries of a single parking space, you’ll be able to eat or drink right next to your car. However, you’re not going to be able to take out a lounge chair, you’re not going to be able to take out a grill, and you’re not going to be able to take up more than one parking space. And it’ll all be watched very carefully.”

And the security to go to the game will be the biggest at a sporting event post-9/11. A 10-mile no-fly zone? And simply getting inside the gates to the game is logistically crazy.

There will be only three ways for the expected 80,000 ticket holders to get to the game. The committee will charter buses called the Fan Express, which will cost $51 and pick up and drop off passengers at nine locations around the region. Fans can also take N.J. Transit to the MetLife Stadium stop or be dropped off by vehicles that must have parking passes.


Fans who had considered parking farther from the stadium and getting there on foot will not be allowed to enter.

“You cannot walk to the Super Bowl,” Kelly said. “You can get your hotel to drop you off at one of the New Jersey Transit locations or get the shuttle to take you to a Fan Express location, but you cannot walk.”

Ugh. Here’s the scene at a Super Bowl train stop a few hours before game time (definitely check out the Twitter pictures – below from @bjacobus14). Reports of people passing out at a Secaucus station as well.

super bowl secaucus train station

Please don’t have the Super Bowl in New York again, NFL. Yikes.


Elvis Dumervil ESPN Graphic 2

ESPN television graphics from the Elvis Dumervil fax contract snafu last March

Remember the Elvis Dumervil fax mishap over the last offseason? Here is a quick analysis of the repercussions from the incident that could have led to the Broncos making it to the Super Bowl.


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says that the players in last week’s Pro Bowl showed more spirit and effort than in previous years.

“It was real football,” Goodell said. “It was something that I give a lot of credit to the players.”

The game also came down to a last-second field goal attempt by Justin Tucker, which fell short.

The last-second drama of a close game and additional twist of letting two NFL Hall of Fame players “draft” the teams like in fantasy football led to additional attention and decent TV ratings (lower than last year, though). It’s also probably going to point to the NFL bringing it back again next year.

However, the problem of injury risk in a pointless game still remains and the NFL won’t solve that problem as long as it looks at the ratings. It needs to go if the NFL is adamant about taking safety seriously.


As a follow-up to last week’s commentary on the Raiderettes cheerleaders and their lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders, here is a Deadspin article where a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader reveals a lot about the cheerleading profession in the NFL.

I’m really torn about the claims in the article, not about the truthfulness on behalf of the ex-cheerleader but more about what can truly be considered fair treatment of participants. It’s good that there are expectations of performance and attendance, and in this case how a cheerleader looks is part of that expectation of performance (however superficial that may be).

However, those expectations should be applied properly, evenly, and objectively. Yes, violations have punitive repercussions but the team should help the violators out in correcting their mistakes and everyone should be held to the same expectations.

And yes, it is a significant privilege to be a participant in these highly-competitive programs, but that doesn’t mean the team should make participants go broke doing it. The teams are the beneficiaries of their cheerleaders looking the part – fit, toned, good hair, sharp appearance – so they should make the investment in taking care of their cheerleaders. Failing to do so is disrespectful. We all know the NFL can afford it.

This commentary is just the tip of the iceberg. Read the article. There is a lot more that could use analysis but I’m holding off.


adam silver nba basketball

The new Adam Silver NBA basketball

Adam Silver became the new NBA commissioner yesterday, and on Day 1 of his reign the NBA was using official game balls with his signature during games.

NBA basketballs take time to break in. Using a brand new basketball in games across the league in the middle of a season might have disruptive consequences. The balls they use in games are already broken in.

So what did the NBA do to take care of this issue? They started producing the Adam Silver-signed balls for practice racks early in the season to get them ready for game play on February 1st. Teams would practice with the Adam Silver balls but played regular season games with the David Stern balls through January 31st. Broken-in Adam Silver balls were then made available for games starting February 1st. Good planning by Spalding and the NBA.

At least the NBA listened to the players’ concerns about changes in the game ball this time around.


Northwestern University’s football players are attempting to unionize, with the intent of challenging the NCAA practice of amateurism by showing the extent to which players in college football and men’s basketball (for now) are actually university employees.

“It’s become clear that relying on NCAA policymakers won’t work, that they are never going to protect college athletes, and you can see that with their actions over the past decade,” (former UCLA football player Ramogi) Huma said. “Look at their position on concussions. They say they have no legal obligation to protect players.”

For now, the unionizing group – the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) – is looking for medical protections beyond what the NCAA provides, guaranteed four-year scholarships for athletes (so they can’t be taken away due to injury or being cut from teams through non-renewal of scholarships), and funding for schooling beyond the four-year scholarship.

The initial wave of unionization is not with the intent of gaining payment for players, but that will probably come in subsequent waves.


punxsutawney phil groundhog pennsylvania

Happy Groundhog Super Bowl Sunday Day!!

It’s also Groundhog Day – let this be a reminder that this is a silly example of using the wrong measurements or indicators to dictate action or performance.

Were you aware that Punxsutawney Phil was sued last year due to being wrong about winter going away (he did not see his shadow, therefore winter was over)?

(It was a fake indictment, but still.)

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How Peyton Manning Demonstrates PDSA

peyton manning

Peyton Manning making play calls at the line is an example of PDSA. (USATSI)

Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (or Act) is a simple cyclical continuous improvement tool that we all use every day but don’t often realize it. Properly applied, PDSA helps us properly define a problem and determine a potential solution, enable the solution, and see if that solution worked. On Sunday, we are going to see a fantastic demonstration of PDSA every time Peyton Manning comes to the line during the Super Bowl. Here’s how he demonstrates it…in 25 seconds or less.

john fox denver broncos

Manning gets the play call from the coaches on the sidelines based on the game situation.


The game situation (score, time remaining, down and distance, field location) will dictate to the Broncos’ offense what play to run. The play is signaled in to Manning from the sideline and player substitutions are made (if necessary). The situation analysis leads to the plan of action for the Denver offense that they hypothesize will be effective.

peyton manning huddle denver broncos

Manning relays the play call to his teammates in the huddle so they are ready to execute.


Manning will make the play call in the huddle and the players will line up to run the play. Manning and his teammates are ready to execute this play.

peyton manning survey defense denver broncos

Manning studies the defensive alignment and determines what adjustments to the play call, if any, need to be made.


Manning surveys the defensive look – the defensive scheme, the number of linebackers vs. secondary defenders, what defenders are in the game, who is moving and who is lined up against whom – and sends a pass catcher in motion to see how the defense adjusts. Based on this information, Manning can tell if the play his offense is currently prepared to execute will be effective. His analysis will either confirm or reject the offense’s hypothesis that the play will be effective.

peyton manning signals denver broncos

Manning relays a change in the play call to the offense.

Adjust or Act

If Manning still believes the play will be effective based on his analysis, he calls for the center to hike him the ball and the offense runs the play. His analysis indicated that the offense should act.

If he doesn’t think the original play called will be effective, Manning will make an adjustment by “audible”-ing out of the play call. He will relay hand signals and words to the offense that indicates a different play to run (such as changing from a running play to a passing play).

(And yes, “Omaha” means something – either as an indicator to the offense or something said to throw off the defense.)

The offensive players will move to different places on the line as necessary to execute the new play call. Manning will re-survey the defense’s adjustments to the new play call, make his own adjustments to how he will execute the play himself (since he will have the ball on the center’s hike). He calls for the center to hike the ball and the offense executes the new play.

In 25 seconds Peyton Manning applies Plan-Do-Study-Adjust to the execution of an offensive play to put the Broncos in the best position to advance the ball and score. Because he and his team have been so effective with execution, he will do that about 70 times on Super Bowl Sunday.

Some additional resources about PDSA:

PDCA and PDSA from Velaction
PDSA with Hoshin Kanri from A Lean Journey
Prefering PDSA over PDCA from Karen Martin/Lean Blog
PDSA Video from IHI at Lean Blog
PDCA and Deming Cycle at iSixSigma
Problem Solving at the Karen Martin Group blog
Developing PDSA Capabilities from Karen Martin at Lean Enterprise Institute

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Why Players Hate The New NBA Jerseys With Sleeves

tony parker jersey

NBA players have hated the new jerseys with sleeves since their introduction at Christmas.

The NBA unveiled new player jerseys with sleeves in advance of their Christmas day slate of games, where the jerseys would be used for the first time. Even before the games were played, players were angry about the design of the new NBA jerseys and continue to voice their displeasure. What’s worse than the outrage over an unwelcome change forced upon the players is the NBA leadership’s reaction to the feedback.

It all starts with the sleeved jersey design being tested and introduced on the Golden State Warriors in early 2013 by adidas. Any new technological advances or changes in on-court apparel should be aimed at improving the performance of the players. Some of the jersey’s features may have been able to do that, but one of the big reasons the new design was introduced?:

While company and team officials tout the uniform’s technical attributes (even with sleeves, the jersey is 26 percent lighter than the Warriors’ regular jersey) the introduction of sleeves has a practical application aimed at juicing sales of NBA fan gear.

Of course. So last season the Golden State Warriors wore the jersey design on a trial basis, and the new standard design is being gradually “implemented” on more and more teams in-season without more player input or consent. (“Implemented” here is another way of saying “forced.”)

And the players are angry. They say the sleeves impact their shooting form, as it adds resistance to their arm movements and takes away from the comfort and freedom sleeveless jerseys provide. The players have trained most of their lives wearing tank-top jerseys on the court during games. The sleeves have implications on how they perform.

So how does the NBA respond? Here’s NBA’s VP of global merchandising (of course!) Sal LaRocca’s take:

LaRocca says the players’ union gets 50 percent of merchandise sales, and claims the material is exactly the same, so any perception that they retain more sweat is all in the players’ heads. He also notes that players can specify how form fitting their sleeves should be, so constricting their range of motion shouldn’t be an issue. (This doesn’t really fly. No matter how loose the sleeve, there’s still going to be a seam running across the shoulder where there wasn’t one before.)

LaRocca claims multiple players on every team that’s worn them were consulted beforehand, though none of the players polled by Bleacher Report say they had any input in the matter.

His argument against the player backlash is “Hey, you can modify the sleeves however you want” and “Hey, your union gets 50% of the sales!” He all but brushes aside the feedback and doesn’t even fully address their concerns with the response he provides.

(He further says that if the players don’t want sleeves they’ll go away from the sleeves – more on this in a moment.)

This is not how to implement change properly. The players, the league, and the merchandise supplier all have to be agreeable partners because they all have skin in the game. Any change must be suitable for all involved.

nba sleeved jerseys

The deployment of the NBA jerseys with sleeves has not been consistent nor smooth.

What is the problem that needs solved here? The players were happy with the jerseys they had, but apparently the league needed to boost merchandise sales and a supplier wanted to sell some gear. Apparently the problem needing solved was “we need to boost our merchandise sales – let’s create some new gear design to do so“. The players saw no problem but are being forced to deal with an unsuitable solution.

Also, the pilot was performed during the season – when the games actually count. Lack of standardization and deployment across teams could give some teams (with or without sleeved jerseys) a competitive advantage unfairly. Impacting games also impact standings and building for the future. Why wasn’t the pilot tested away from when the games count? And why didn’t they use PDSA to pilot the jerseys to see what works and what needs to change?

Lean thinking entails getting buy-in from all affected stakeholders but also having a genuine problem defined. The NBA did neither of these things and the players are rightfully upset. If the players voice their anger in the media, how will that motivate fans to buy the sleeved jerseys from merch shops?

Sounds like the NBA failed to solve even one problem with this change.

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Around The Bases: Sochi Olympic Games Edition

sochi 2014 olympics logo

The Sochi Olympic Games begin in a couple of weeks – a lot more attention is being given to the enormous cost of hosting the Games, the LGBT uproar, and the questionable security than the games themselves.

First, the security concerns with suicide bomber and terrorist threats already have made some American athletes at the last second reconsider having their families attend the Sochi Games. But what about the athletes themselves?

The U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association has hired Global Rescue, a security company, that will have up to six aircraft on standby for medical or security emergencies.

This is in addition to the two U.S. warships in the Black Sea and U.S. aircraft on alert at bases in the region, as the Pentagon put it, for all manner of contingencies.

And such rescue operations require coordination between the U.S. Olympic Team officials and Russian security officials. How will that work?

Any American rescue operation would depend heavily on (President Vladimir Putin)’s approval, security experts say. And that’s unlikely if not impossible.

“As far as being able to do things without Russian cooperation, it’s basically a nonstarter,” said Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Russia expert in the Clinton White House and an NBC News analyst.

“This is their territory, their country,” he said. “They get to decide what kind of outside help they need.”

While it’s understandable that Russian leaders would have to grant approval…it’s also not outside help for Russia but for the United States athletes. Diplomatic tensions are already high between the two countries and failure to work together in the event of an emergency won’t help those tensions.

And then we have the costs of holding the Games in Sochi. Initially estimated to be about $12 billion, they have ballooned to a reported $50 billion, a lot of which is caused by the allegedly-corrupt business dealings.

(Former deputy prime minister Boris) Nemtsov, along with Leonid Martynyuk, issued an updated report late last year that stated that between $25 billion to $30 billion spent on the Games has been stolen or skimmed off the top by construction firms and other business interests that they claim are friends of Putin’s.

“The Games are nothing but a monstrous scam,” Newtsov said, according to The Daily Telegraph. Nemtsov is a Sochi native.

Despite the extravagant costs for new infrastructure and facilities that, if history is any indication, will become ruins due to non-use, Sochi apparently couldn’t afford to install a simple accessory in the men’s restroom of one arena.

sochi toilets mens room

Financial prudency at its finest.

At least one city is finding that hosting the Winter Olympics is not a sound financial investment. Stockholm has dropped out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games because of the enormous costs involved for rarely-used infrastructure and equipment installations.

”To organize Winter Games would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsled and luge,” Regina Kevius, the mayor in charge of sports events, said. ”There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.”

The city’s top mayor, Sten Nordin, who also in charge of finances, said the Swedish Olympic Committee had done comprehensive work on the plan.

”Although the calculations are thorough, we estimate that revenues will likely be lower and costs higher than the investigation indicate,” he said in a statement.

Simple and brilliant. I wish more governments operated this way – advanced planning and no forced rushed decisions, objective decision making held in higher esteem than ego, and avoiding the hubris Russia is likely going to encounter.


Mark Emmert NCAA

Earlier this month the NCAA held a convention for over 800 Division I athletic directors and associates in what was deemed by Mark Emmert and the NCAA as a “governance dialogue” about changes and enormous redesign of Division I athletics. Instead, according to attendees, it became more of a corporate retreat and semi-boondoggle instead of actually accomplishing seriously-needed NCAA reform.

This was no more than a typical corporate retreat. As several industry officials told in some form, “This is all for show.”

- snip -

Six months after oft-maligned president NCAA Mark Emmert sent a letter inviting members to this “important milestone,” with several power conference commissioners at that time publicly calling for “transformative” NCAA change, 800 people flew from all corners of the country to be greeted with … dotted lines.

This sort of confusion occurs when there is a serious lack of strategic thinking from the top of the organization and a lack of proper communication through the rest of the organization.

If Emmert and the NCAA were to use Lean thinking and genuine strategic application, they would first establish their mission and vision:

Interestingly, a previously bland Q&A session didn’t truly heat up until moderator Jean Frankel, the NCAA’s outside management consultant (think “the Bobs” from Office Space), showed a slide entitled “NCAA Core Values” (page 14), first adopted in 2004. She’d made a seemingly innocuous remark about the need to reevaluate the list annually, to which someone replied, astutely, they aren’t core values if you change them every year.

And then the audience sprang to life.

“I’m concerned that our first core value isn’t ‘graduation of our athletes,’” said one faculty athletics representative. Touche.

Another questioned why they didn’t begin the entire discussion with values, not board composition. Another faculty rep suggested that schools weren’t currently living up to multiple items on the list.

Uh oh.

The Sports Illustrated article contains some other great notes and anecdotes about balance of power, the lack of a genuine plan, lack of clarity in the reporting structure. (Note: I am in favor of re-evaluating core values frequently, not with the intent of changing them but to reaffirm that they continue to be the core values necessary and using them to guide decisions down the line. Better than letting them turn into dust-covered words in a frame on a wall no one notices anymore.)

So how does this get fixed? Yes, the core values and mission/vision need to be solidified first. The NCAA also needs to continually confirm what its objective and purpose are, and always answer “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” when considering making changes down the line.

But nothing should come before establishing objective/purpose/core values/mission/vision. The fact that they are not established nor is what is in place fully adhered to should tell you a lot about the NCAA.


From the world of bobbleheads, we have a couple of defects that have come to light.

First off, last season the Sacramento River Cats held a Barry Zito bobblehead giveaway night. At the time, Barry Zito was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants (but as of today he is a free agent).

barry zito bobblehead

Looks sharp, right? Well…Barry Zito is a left-handed pitcher. This bobblehead body is of a right-handed pitcher (or defender). Whoops.

And then there’s this. Courtesy of Uni Watch, someone spotted a couple of Mets bobbleheads with a certain body abnormality (you know, aside from the giant baseball head):

mets bobblehead oops

The left hands on those two fellows in the middle look awfully uncomfortable and perhaps defective. Quality control probably wasn’t as good back then when these figures were made. Unfortunately Barry Zito shows that it’s still not perfect.


Lastly, Seth Godin’s blog post from Saturday [Measuring nothing (with great accuracy)] is about metrics and how it’s important to measure the right things instead of the easy things.

Baseball teams used to measure a hitter’s greatness and value by the number of home runs hit or batting average. Smarter minds are now measuring a hitter’s value relative to winning ballgames such as on-base percentage and Wins Above Replacement because the primary goal of a baseball team is to win the game. Give Seth’s blog a read.

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Around the Bases: NFL Pro Bowl Edition

nfl pro bowl team photo

The NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii – there might be a Hawaiian word for “try your hardest” but don’t expect anyone to say it this weekend. (Photo by Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)

With the two-week gap between the NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl upon us, all of the sporting world’s attention is now honed in on the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

Wait, it’s not? You mean there are more people talking about the Super Bowl, Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, Justin Bieber…just about anything…than the Pro Bowl?

The Pro Bowl has become a bit of a low-rated laughingstock of a game – the results are meaningless, the players don’t play hard (for good reason), it’s supposed to be a light-hearted exhibition for representatives from 30 teams while there are still two other teams vying for the Super Bowl trophy. So the NFL figured it should try some new things.

Over the last few years there have been some changes to the game. The Pro Bowl, up through 2009, was played the week after the Super Bowl – after the public’s interest in football had peaked and all but disappeared for the season, which drove poor television ratings. The Pro Bowl was moved to the week before the Super Bowl, giving us our two-week playoff football gap, but that meant that players playing in the Super Bowl were not able to play in the Pro Bowl. And now, instead of following the NFC vs. AFC format, this year the teams will be drafted like fantasy football teams and conference affiliation is irrelevant. Either way, players do not want to hurt one another, especially for a meaningless exhibition where the winners get…a little bit more money per player than the losers. Kickoffs are eliminated, in-game rules are changed, and it’s really a soft unspectacular excuse for an all-star game.

All of these changes are implemented to drive interest, TV ratings, and revenue…but what the NFL is failing to provide is a purpose for this game. Why does this game exist?

- Is it to reward players for a good season just completed? A lot of the game’s players will draw lower salaries for playing in the game than their regular season salaries provide…while unnecessarily putting themselves at risk of injury for an exhibition game. Hence, not trying really hard.

- Is it recognition of the best players? Okay, fine. Aren’t there better ways to recognize the best players than making them travel for this game that probably won’t sell out?

- Or is it another way to keep eyeballs affixed on football and not let them stray toward other winter sports like hockey and basketball so that the league can continue to grow revenues and ratings?

The players want the Pro Bowl because it’s another chance for money and recognition.

“(Commissioner) Roger (Goodell) was very serious about potentially canceling the Pro Bowl because apparently it’s very expensive and isn’t of a ton of value to them,” (NFLPA outgoing president Domonique) Foxworth told USA TODAY Sports this week.

“To be honest with you, I was completely comfortable with eliminating it until I talked to the players, and they said they loved it and they want to be there.”

The NFL wants the game, as long as the players play hard. Hawaii wants the game because of tourism dollars and attention. But the ticket-buying public largely doesn’t give a hoot.

Players and fans are annoyed with having four preseason games, and the league is considering cutting those exhibitions down to two. Roger Goodell is on the record as saying he wants to eliminate unnecessary plays that provide risk for injury. Why should the Pro Bowl game stay when the results and practices mean even less than the preseason games?

Data shows that the game isn’t working. Short of canceling the concept of a Pro Bowl all together, if all three identified purposes are true, isn’t there a safer, more unique way to give rewards and recognition to all players (not just those NOT playing in the Super Bowl, and keep attention on the sport without putting players in harms way?

Well it turns out there is! Well, there used to be. The NFL Quarterback Challenge, held in the Cayman Islands, was a skills challenge for quarterbacks that tested their arm strength, accuracy, agility, and speed. It was a fun, lighthearted competition that didn’t put players in any great injury risk. It was discontinued because of legal matters and could possibly be a great replacement for the Pro Bowl if the NFL were to give it serious consideration.

If the league was genuinely serious about improving the competition level on the field yet still maximizing safety and providing recognition to the best players, here’s their chance.


Now that the NFL offseason is fast approaching, the league is very quickly undertaking efforts to analyze safety rules and protocols and begin formulating new changes in preparation for the 2014 season. Besides enabling instant replay and reviews of penalties such as helmet-to-helmet, the league is also considering eliminating extra or inconsequential plays such as the Pro Bowl (as noted above) and…extra point kicks!

This is an innovative evaluation of a rule whose abolishment is supported by data but would be a shakeup to the fundamental foundation of the game itself.

Fox’ Daryl Johnston, on the NFL looking into doing away with PATs: “When you talk about safety, how long is it going to be until they change the game at its foundation point? I think this is one of those changes”

Despite this emphasis on safety, the concussion situation between the NFL and the retired players remains open and contentious. A former VP of ESPN says that the league’s denial of the impact of concussions has led her to leave football behind.


Going back to the Super Bowl, here’s a great feature about a Minnesota company producing NFL merchandise in their home state for fans of teams in the Super Bowl instead of heavy outsourcing of licensed product manufacturing to China, which most licensees do.

WinCraft is the oldest NFL licensee in the market, according to Schipper. About 80 to 90 percent of their product is made in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and right now business is in full-swing as they prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Staff is working around the clock to make team products that include flags, magnets, snack helmets and decals.

That’s what employee Karl Feltes is working on.

“This is our Super Bowl. We come in, sometimes start at 2:30 a.m. – 5:30 a.m., right after the games are done,” Feltes said. “People come in right after the games to get our merchandise ready to go.”

While obviously they had to do some prep work on materials for teams that didn’t make the Super Bowl…

Crews start planning the artwork and putting together materials as early as August, according to Schipper.

…that’s far less costly than ordering a whole lot of team championship merchandise in advance of a game, only to be forced to dispose of that merchandise (or donate it) when that team loses.

new england patriots merchandise

Oh, wait, Modell’s did exactly that. They ordered a bunch of New England Patriots AFC Championship merchandise in advance of the game – $500,000 worth of merchandise – only the Patriots didn’t win.

“We took a tremendous risk, but you know what? People expect us to have the merchandise,” a source told the Boston Herald prior to the game. “We printed up everything: hats, shirts, T-shirts, novelties, pennants — you name it — for men, women, kids.”

Do the fans really expect it to be available that quickly? And $500,000 worth?!?

Okay, I don’t have the data in front of me (and I’m sure they do) to say that they would or would not have sold out of the gear had the Patriots won, but if I’m a Pats fan I’m not buying AFC Championship gear yet – I’d rather spend it on Super Bowl Champions gear (should they win it). Heck, if New England were to win the Super Bowl, the AFC Championship gear becomes all but obsolete.

This seems like a silly and costly gamble, for multiple reasons. However, it’s a gamble Modell’s apparently takes frequently. Remember Linsanity and Tebow-Mania?


The cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders – the Raiderettes – are suing the team for unfair labor practices and other offenses.

Specifically, the suit charges that the team withholds all pay from the Raiderettes until after the season is completed, does not pay for all hours worked and forces the cheerleaders to pay many of their own business expenses.

It sounds like the cheerleaders cover a lot of their own travel expenses to special appearances, have significant levels of expectations and subsequent penalties levied against them for violations, and on and on. Their monthly salaries of $1250 come to about $5 per hour for the efforts they put into maintaining their images and providing entertainment.

The sports and entertainment industries are notorious for rigorous treatment of low-level employees at salaries beneath poverty level because the supply of potential employees is far greater than the availability of positions they can fill. Rightly or wrongly, teams get away with this treatment and no one inside the system questions it. A lot of these positions are considered internships, which because of seasonality or college credits teams aren’t subject to certain employment laws.

I for one seriously despise this practice of paying wages far out of alignment with efforts or time commitments. It seriously violates “respect for people”. There are great benefits to be received by paying employees/interns more and taking greater care of them – you can recruit better talent instead of just “warm bodies” who are willing to sacrifice more than is necessary.

That’s why I think the Raiders should take better care of their Raiderettes, however I’m quite certain there’s a signed-off waiver somewhere that allows the team to toy with their employees this way. None of this is “respect for people”.

I recently read a short blurb on Twitter from an unnamed sports business leader extolling the virtues of unpaid sports internships and how it’s the right thing to do by the teams because that’s how you get dedicated employees in the industry. I understand his stance, but disagree wholeheartedly. I want more out of my employees and partners than just dedication and sacrifice. This is why I would want to pay more to recruit better/smarter talent that remains dedicated, and provide them more respect and trust – that’s what other industries do.

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Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival Annual Review – Part II

curious cat

As stated yesterday, John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Blog hosts an annual review of blogs, penned by other management blog authors. I will cover four blogs total, having started with two blogs yesterday and finishing with two today in this post. These two blogs reviewed below are from continuous improvement consultants and book authors whose works I hold in the greatest of respect.


leanblog logo mark grabanMark Graban’s Lean Blog is far and away the most comprehensive yet eclectic mix of posts about continuous improvement applications found in any blog, and simply saying this doesn’t do the blog justice.

Mark has been churning out Lean and continuous improvement content since 2005, and while his blog’s primary focus has been on healthcare topics (even writing three books about Lean in healthcare) his roots are in manufacturing in the auto industry and he shares posts that go beyond Lean in healthcare – iPhone manufacturing (and lack of respect for people at Foxconn), traditional manufacturing, current events, and so on.

He covers so much information in his near-daily posts and frequent podcasts that he sets the standard for demonstrating that Lean and continuous improvement works everywhere.

He’s also a big sports fan and has penned many blog posts about how Lean can impact sports on and off the field. In fact, when I first started thinking about connecting Lean and sports about six years ago it was a handful of his posts that made me think “Yeah, someone else thinks this is a good idea too!”

I read his blog daily (and try to provide additional commentary where I can), and so I highly recommend subscribing to anyone from continuous improvement novice up to well-seasoned practitioners.

His large quantity of posts in 2013 makes it hard to just pinpoint a handful of standouts, but fortunately he has a solid selection of posts about sports which I’ll share with you now!

- The 2012 NFL football season saw a great replay flag snafu with then-Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz throwing a challenge flag on a scoring play – however, because scoring plays are automatically reviewed, not only did an odd rule reverse the automatic review (canceling it) but it also drew a penalty. A very stupid rule, so stupid that the Houston Texans implemented a measure to error-proof against their then-head coach Gary Kubiak throwing his flag on a scoring play.

crooked batters box

- Take a good look at the batter’s box lines. They seem awfully crooked, don’t they? Mark shared a post about how laying out the lines of the batter’s box should be error-proofed but somehow the process of chalking the lines broke down before this game. Not only are there devices that keep this from happening, but shouldn’t somebody have noticed – the umpires, grounds crew, players, anybody?

- Mark also shares a post about doing Kaizen now, not when you’re “ready” and uses a great metaphor in Michael Jordan – he began practicing basketball as soon as he knew he wanted to be good at it, not waiting until he was much taller and “ready” to be good at it. So many organizations use “waiting until we are ready” as an excuse to put off potential change. If you want to get better now, start now.

- Alabama football coach Nick Saban makes lots of reference to “the process” as part of his on-field success. Mark looked a little more deeply into whether Coach Saban is truly a Lean thinker because of his adherence to “the process”.

- Mark and I also exchanged guest posts in 2013. Mark shared a post about Bryce Harper crashing into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium with regard to the “warning” of warning tracks, and another post about Rob Gronkowski’s multiple surgeries due to infection and what teams/hospitals can do to prevent reinjury and extra medical intervention. I shared (in early 2014) a guest post about two NFL players violating concussion protocol without penalty and another post (in 2013) about a lesson taught to me by a mentor.

- I was invited to be a part of his Lean Blog Podcast to talk about Lean in sports as a preview of The Masters.

- Also, Mark has published an electronic compilation of his Lean Blog posts about sports, aptly named “Lean Blog: Sports”.

Mark also has a couple other Lean-related side projects – Lean Memes and Be More Careful!

I look forward to further collaboration with Mark in the future. We are often having Twitter discussions about silly things happening in sports that really reinforce how Lean and continuous improvement are sorely needed. Mark can be found on Twitter at @MarkGraban.


karen martin the outstanding organization ksmartinKaren Martin is the principal author of her blog at The Karen Martin Group. Karen is a continuous improvement consultant, Shingo Research Award-winning author, and keynote speaker. She has written four books – The Outstanding Organization won the Shingo Research Award in 2013 and Value Stream Mapping was just released this month (my copy has been ordered and is on its way!), along with Metrics-Based Process Mapping and The Kaizen Event Planner.

She shared about two blog posts per month, and while some of those posts were in support of the content in her books they also helped reinforce the valuable applications her books have on breaking down roadblocks and facilitating significant improvement.

- In the DMAIC project management/improvement framework derived from Six Sigma, the D stands for Define. This is the project phase where we answer “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?” so that we have greater clarity for planning improvement and we are less likely to implement changes that don’t have the right impact on results. Karen penned a post about how using fuzzy words doesn’t help promote clarity and objectivity, and how the lack of specificity increase the chances for improvement failure.

(Quick aside – Karen and I met at the 2013 ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Indianapolis and she and I talked about fuzzy words. I shared with her a bit from George Carlin on how we let morphed terminology take the edge off of descriptions when that edge is what generates a sense of urgency.)

- As indicated with Mark’s post about being “ready” for Kaizen as opposed to just doing it now, Karen shares another excuse for delaying improvement – “corporate won’t allow it.” Stop making excuses. If you know something can and should be improved and you have the capability to get it done so you can do your work better…just do it. Generally, the results will trump any excuse or bellyaching from “corporate”.

- One blog post of hers that I have a slight dispute with is about how we would explain whether Lean really works. While we both agree that properly-applied Lean thinking works, she also says she would answer the question “How can you prove that Lean works?” with follow-up questions like “Can you prove the existence of God?” to suggest that we have to take a leap of faith that the results will come if we do it right.

I, on the other hand, would respond in a different manner. While I do indicate that taking the first step with Lean requires a lot of trust, I would refrain from using unprovable-before-the-fact analogies and instead opt for a Total Quality Management approach with a focus on defining customer expectations for safety, quality, and delivery and show how the Lean tools and Lean thinking tie directly to business success if done properly.

Lean doesn’t have to take such a large leap of faith to learn and know it can work if properly explained. (Maybe this works for her when she talks with new clients so I am hardly in a position to judge!)

- Karen has been a guest on Mark’s Lean Blog Podcast before as well – as a prelude to the release of Value Stream Mapping, and to discuss The Outstanding Organization.

Karen can also be found on Twitter at @KarenMartinOpEx.

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Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival Annual Review – Part I

curious catJohn Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Blog hosts an annual review of blogs, penned by other management blog authors. Last year I had the honor of having Lean Blitz reviewed by Matt Wrye, author of the Beyond Lean blog. (Matt also reviewed Lean Blitz this year as well.)

This year I get the distinction of joining in with providing reviews of blogs I enjoy. I read a lot of blogs about Lean and continuous improvement because there’s a lot more that I don’t know than I do know about quality (we must always be broadening our horizons!) and I’m extremely interested in learning more from others who have either been in similar situations with quality applications or they have new and fresh ideas I’ve never considered before. I’m excited to give back by sharing my opinions about some of these blogs.

I will cover four blogs, starting with two blogs in this post. These two blogs and their authors are fellow ASQ Influential Voices but I had actually discovered their blogs before I even knew programs such as the Influential Voices existed.


nicole radziwillDr. Nicole Radziwill is the author of the blog Quality and Innovation. She is a teacher in the Department of Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) at James Madison University and the tagline of her blog is “exploring quality, productivity & innovation in socio-technical systems”.

She writes one or two posts per month, going beyond the traditional application of quality in manufacturing systems and looks at the concept of quality as a life philosophy. Multiple times she cites the twelfth of Deming’s 14 Points – “Remove barriers to pride of workmanship (or joy in work)” – in her posts, which is important on both quantifiable and subjective levels. She has a side project called the Burning Mind Project where she aligns the 10 Value of the Burning Man project, which embrace Deming’s 14 Points, to the transformation of education.

I have enjoyed her atypical look at quality applications. Here is a sampling of content she shared this past year that definitely caught my attention.

- As she is a fellow ASQ Influential Voice, she was tasked early in the year to identify quality in unexpected places. She shared a great entry by demonstrating quality application with the weather – she pointed out a study showing the true costs of working in an office that is just a little bit too cold to be comfortable. Really simple yet eye-opening.

- I shared a blog post last year asking “What is quality?” and provided the answer I felt was most reflective of how I approach problem solving. She also shared a post about her definition of quality.

- Last year I had a poor supplier interaction when trying to rectify a quality problem with Gold’s Gym and Dr. Radziwill in the same time frame shared a post about a similar poor interaction with a rental car company (which I made reference to in my post).

And Dr. Radziwill herself was a participant in last year’s Blog Carnival Annual Review as a reviewer.

I first discovered Quality and Innovation when I was researching the the use of PDSA/PDCA in college football rule changes, and I referenced Dr. Radziwill’s work. After reading some of her other contributions, her blog immediately became an entry in my RSS feed.

Dr. Radziwill can be found on Twitter at @nicoleradziwill.


jimena calfa lets talk about qualityASQ Influential Voice Jimena Calfa has a blog named Let’s Talk About Quality. Ms. Calfa is an information systems engineer in San Diego, an ASQ-certified Quality Process Analyst and Software Quality Engineer, and has been writing about quality since 2010. In her words, here’s why she started her blog:

Studying for my CQPA exam, I had to do a lot of research (on Internet, books, articles, etc.), and made my own notes to prepare myself for the exam. After pass the exam, I had the idea of put my notes and knowledge in a blog, so other people interested in the same field can get the information all in one place, and also to share concepts with other quality professionals, exchange opinions, and create a quality community (wordplay intended!)

Most of her posts are with regard to ASQ Influential Voices contributions, which she joined in 2012, and quality quotes from prominent business leaders or thinkers in history. Here are some of the posts that I’ve found the most enlightening or entertaining.

- When she was asked to find quality in unexpected places, she came up with a great list of how we use quality concepts but don’t think much about it.

- She provided a quick overview of what a Quality Assurance Engineer does, even using a bakery as example to explain it. Before reading her post, I hadn’t really given it much thought nor could I have properly defined it had I been asked to do so.

- She shared quality quotes throughout the year from historical figures and business leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Aristotle, and W. Edwards Deming.

Her articles are light in content so as to not overwhelm readers with too much technical jargon, but comprehensive enough (when going into detail on a topic) to get her points across.

Ms. Calfa can be found on Twitter at @jimecalfa.

Part II with two more blog reviews – by two very prominent consultants and influential book authors – coming soon.

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What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us About Continuous Improvement

martin luther king

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (photo from National Geographic)

Happy (observed) birthday, Dr. King.

I was not alive to bear firsthand witness to Dr. King’s participation in and leadership of the civil rights movement but the effect of his efforts still impacts all of us today, almost fifty years after his assassination. Without his ability to not only see the end goal of equal rights many years down the line but also to paint the picture for how everyone would drive to achieve it, the struggle over civil rights today would be so much further behind.

He and other leaders could visualize the ideal state and have the courage to not let “this is the way it has always been done” remain an excuse to not change for the better. Change requires taking risks by embarking into the unknown. Those risks can sometimes be simple, while other times taking risks can be extremely costly – as civil rights movement leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X, and President John F. Kennedy (whose birthday is actually today) endured (albeit all unnecessarily). Dr. King’s legacy of civil disobedience in the cause of equal rights for all persons lives on far past his death.

Improvement won’t happen if we are refusing to change. Improvement necessitates change for the better – changing our expectations, changing our worldviews, changing the way we do things, changing our plans and priorities.

And change necessitates ideas, plans, investments/sacrifices, and the courage to move from what is currently deemed comfortable. Leaders of change are often ridiculed because of their courage to challenge the status quo, but that’s where historical legacies are forged.

World history is covered with change, fighting the status quo, and continuous improvement. If not for the courage to author the Declaration of Independence and the invested sacrifices of lives during the American Revolutionary War, the United States might still be a British territory. If not for the earliest of civil rights actions, the executive order of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the remaining rebellious territories during the American Civil War, the United States and the makeup of its citizens might look far different today.

Individuals such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Robert Kennedy, Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ralph Nader (yes, Ralph Nader!) were all envisioning the greater good and fought the status quo…and our lives are all better for it.

So thank you, Dr. King, for having the courage to make the world a better place.

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Around the Bases: MLB Instant Replay Edition

MLB Umpires Instant Replay

MLB owners approved of using expanded instant replay in 2014 – there was much rejoicing.

Because there are so many individual examples of Lean thinking either being used or being applicable in sports – based on my overflowing bookmarks queue the latter clearly takes the cake – I’ve decided to try out a way to quickly review news and notes from the sports world that deserve a mention or are an update from previous posts. For now I will call it a feature, name it “Around the Bases”, and I’ve done something like this before but will now see if it can be set as “regular”. PDSA, indeed. ~~~ Major League Baseball has approved the use of expanded instant replay in 2014! It will incorporate a similar “challenge” system used by NFL head coaches on the sidelines and referees. The baseball powers-that-be used the Arizona Fall League in 2013 as a testing ground for the new instant replay system but really only applied one iteration instead of doing trials and adjustments that are reminiscent of Agile deployment. It’s not yet known how much the expanded use of instant replay will slow down the pace of game but we’ll find out once the regular season starts.

Selig has emphasized that he doesn’t want replay to slow games, whose increased length in recent decades has been targeted for criticism.

What’s also possible is the gaming of the system, which should have been rooted out far before being deployed in regular season games. Instead, we’re gonna have to rely on “integrity” of coaches and managers.

But MLB doesn’t want managers to tell players to stall to give team employees time to review video on their own and instruct the dugout whether to use a challenge. In tests last week at the Arizona Fall League, most reviews averaged 1 minute, 40 seconds. Former manager Tony La Russa, now an MLB special adviser, said managers will have to “rely on their integrity” and not cause delays.

One type of play that is NOT reviewable? The phantom “neighborhood” double play where a fielder receiving a throw at second base is close to the bag but not actually touching the bag when the received throw is in hand/glove prior to throwing to first base. Why that type of call is being left out, I have no idea (nor does Rob Neyer, evidently). Also, teams will be allowed to show replays of close plays on their giant Jumbotron video boards, whether the play is reviewed or not. Could help managers on either side determine if they’d like to use their replay challenge, but we’ll see how they use it. ~~~

aaron rodgers

The demand for the Green Bay Packers’ first round playoff game was extremely lower than normal – why?

The Green Bay Packers barely snuck into the playoffs on a last-minute touchdown drive in their last regular season game against the Chicago Bears to win the NFC North division. Despite having an intensely loyal fan base with an infamously-long season ticket waiting list, the demand for playoff tickets was low enough that the game was nearly subject to TV blackout in the Green Bay area due to possibly not selling out. In order to figure out why demand was dangerously low, the Packers used surveys.

The surveys were sent to season-ticket holders and those on the team’s waiting list. For the fans who didn’t buy playoff tickets, the survey asked why they chose not to and where they watched the game instead. The surveys differed slightly based on level of financial commitment to the team. Six days before the Packers’ wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers — known for their rabid fan base and legendary waiting list of more than 100,000 fans — had 40,000 tickets to sell.

Proper use of surveys can assist teams in assessing causes of demand fluctuations as well as analyze potential sources of direct and indirect competition. It’s an excellent tool for assessing customer expectations and true size of market. ~~~ More with the NFL – a judge has rejected the deal between the NFL and the lengthy list of former players suffering from the effects of concussions and CTE resulting from their playing days because she is concerned it is insufficient to cover all the expected damages.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody asked for more financial analysis from the parties, a week after players’ lawyers filed a detailed payout plan. “I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their [families] … will be paid,” Brody wrote in a 12-page opinion issued Tuesday.

The plan outlined how much each player in the lawsuit would get, varying from type of diagnosis to the current age of the former player. While it’s most likely true that $765M won’t go a long way toward covering the quoted 20,000 current and former players covered by the suit (despite what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says) , wouldn’t the league and the individuals be better suited through diagnosis treatment and coverage on an individual basis instead of a lump sum? It seems frivolous to jump to a conclusion on what the actual costs are going to be when handling cases individually will not only come up with better support for those who need it – the damaged players – but also reduce the opportunity for players to slip through the cracks or see the money dry up before they get their cut. Anyway, I had questioned whether the suit settlement was large enough to cover damages adequately back in September, but I came at it from a different angle than did Judge Brody. ~~~ And lastly, for now, the University of North Carolina is doing its student-athletes a disservice by admitting far-underprepared high school students who cannot read beyond an eighth-grade level and driving them into either non-rigorous majors or no-show classes. Not only that, but an outside researcher and reading specialist investigating the reading levels of student-athletes had her investigation stopped until individuals higher up in the university could investigate the claims themselves and until she received approval because of identifiable information of her subjects.

In an open letter emailed to university students, faculty and employees Thursday, chancellor Carol Folt said she takes (Mary) Willingham’s allegations “very seriously.” But the chancellor said the school has been “unable to reconcile these claims with either our own facts or with the data currently being cited as the source for the claims.” “Nevertheless, we are investigating all the claims being made and, if they are found to have merit, I will take all appropriate actions,” Folt said. “We also will do our best to correct assertions we believe are not based in fact.”

But apparently the institution itself can cut through the red tape and do research, while also instituting bias to the data and controlling how it is shared with the media and public. What can’t be argued is this information about UNC’s 2005 national champion men’s basketball team (although the data source is unknown – shared in a tweet through ESPN’s Outside the Lines):

2005 unc mens basketball

Not to question the level of rigor involved in the majors/degrees of seven of these players, but doesn’t it seem odd that all seven gravitated toward the same program?

UNC and the NCAA have a responsibility of educating and graduating their students, regardless of athlete status. However, when schools admit players that are incapable of learning and competing in the classroom and still send them out with degrees that won’t serve them any significant purpose or programs with no-show classes, then the school and the NCAA have failed significantly.

Student-athletes who can’t read well, but play in the money-making collegiate sports of football and basketball, are not a new phenomenon, and they certainly aren’t found only at UNC-Chapel Hill.

If UNC wants to get serious about providing a valuable education to students/athletes who are ready and capable of withstanding its rigor, they should hold themselves to a higher standard than this. They should tighten their academic success metrics – measure the right things and create action plans to meet those metrics properly. They should also take more seriously the research done by Ms. Willingham and probably leverage her to help them fix a broken internal system.

Willingham’s job was to help athletes who weren’t quite ready academically for the work required at UNC at Chapel Hill, one of the country’s top public universities. But she was shocked that one couldn’t read. And then she found he was not an anomaly.

But how? From ESPN:

In all, there have been seven internal and external reviews or investigations since 2011 resulting in more than 70 recommendations to improve policies and procedures.

If there have been so many reviews/investigations that come out with improvement recommendations…why are the improvements not implemented? Is there no program in place to manage the implementations? In order for improvements in policies and procedures to occur, they have to be planned and managed and resources have to be devoted to their progression. It’s not clear those resources or plans are in place at UNC. Recommendations are not of any value if no one acts on them. If UNC wants to fix the problem, they have to define the problem and begin developing plans for improvement with the resources required to achieve them. That is, if they care enough about doing it right instead of being an athletics money-making factory.

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Playing Australian Open In Extreme Heat Shows No Respect For People

Frank Dancevic Australian Open Heat

Tennis player Frank Dancevic gets medical attention after passing out at the Australian Open. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

So when it’s winter here in the states, it’s summer in Australia and right now it’s the peak of summer heat in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is playing. It’s hot – a high of 116F on Tuesday and, 103F on Wednesday, and a high of 107F today. So hot, in fact, tennis players are not only complaining about the heat but they are certainly struggling through it to the point of passing out and overheating.

One player fainted midmatch as temperatures topped 108 degrees Fahrenheit at the Australian Open on Tuesday. Others said it felt like they were playing tennis in a sauna, or on a frying pan that sizzled their soles.


Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic said he started feeling dizzy in the first set of his match against Benoit Paire and then collapsed in the next set.

“I couldn’t keep my balance anymore and I leaned over the fence, and when I woke up people were all around me,” he said. After receiving medical attention, he returned to the match and lost in straight sets.

“It’s hazardous to be out there. It’s dangerous,” Dancevic said, criticizing the tournament for not having suspended play. “Until somebody dies, they’re just going to keep playing matches in this heat.”

It’s bad enough that the Australian Open is scheduled to be played at the peak of the summer season in Melbourne – check out this graphic showing the historical averages (courtesy of of highs peaking during this time – but that officials at the Australian Open were reluctant to institute measures right away that would protect the players. From Sports Illustrated:

We got our first indication on Monday, when the tournament referee and tournament doctor sat in a press conference and projected a strange indifference to the weather forecast and the resulting conditions.

Here’s the tournament doctor, Tim Wood: “Tennis, as a sport, is relatively low risk for major heat problems compared to… continuous running events. So you’re more likely to get into trouble in these events, in a 10K road race, than you are in a tennis match. As you can appreciate, the players, the time the ball is in play, in total time for the match is relatively small. The amount of heat they produce from muscles exercising is relatively small in terms of what someone continuously exercising will do. They sit down every five to ten minutes for every 90 seconds at change of ends, so there is chance to lose some heat at that time. Tennis by and large is a low risk sport, and that’s why by and large, like cricket, we can play in these conditions and not be too concerned.”

What the Australian Open DOES have is an extreme heat policy but the organizers were not inclined to implement it (as seen in Mr. Wood’s statement).

Organizers of the grand slam event said Thursday that they had introduced an “extreme heat policy” after temperatures rose above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

That means that matches already under way on court will be suspended at the end of the set being played.

The organizers said the roofs would be closed at the Rod Laver Arena and the Hisense Arena so that players could continue their matches on those courts.

So the players are physically suffering due to the weather, the Australian Open has protocols in place to take care of the players if conditions were untenable…and they refused to implement them on Day 1??

This is an example of leaders not listening to the serious complaints from those who are forced to suffer from the decisions made by those leaders. It’s understandable to want to stick to a schedule so as not to inconvenience spectators (who, by the way, were staying away themselves because of the heat), but it’s also ignorant to not take care of those who are delivering the product or experience that the spectators are paying to see.

Fortunately, the organizers took the high road and implemented the policy by postponing matches (for the first time since 2009) until the weather was more suitable for playing.

Still, this is a failure in following the Lean pillar of “respect for people” – it’s an application of human suffering at the hands of the organizers that fortunately has not had any dire consequences for the players (that we know of so far).

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The Broken Baseball Hall of Fame

greg maddux atlanta braves

Greg Maddux will be elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but the voting process for the Hall lacks objective standards and uses arbitrary baselines for eligibility. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images/Bleacher Report)

Baseball has perhaps the most famous Hall of Fame in the world, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Today, a few more of baseball’s elite will be elected for enshrinement on its hallowed walls. However, the entire process for selecting the best of the best for the Hall is inherently flawed because it lacks objective standards for what represents a Hall of Fame player/manager/executive/representative of the game and because it utilizes arbitrary baselines for election eligibility and vote quantity.

I’ll explain each of those flaws individually, but here is a quick rundown of the problem that is created – this year there is perhaps the largest group of strong candidates for enshrinement, but many of them played during a period of heavy PED and steroid usage and many voters refuse to cast votes for players suspected of using PEDs or steroids while other voters don’t hold it against players as much.

First, the arbitrary baselines. Players are eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot if they played during the period beginning 20 years ago but ending at least 5 years prior to election. That’s fine. However, players not receiving votes on 5% or more of the ballots cast in a year are no longer eligible to be on the ballot, but voters can vote for up to 10 players on their ballots.

Why 5%? What’s the harm in leaving a player on the ballot into perpetuity even if he never gets a vote? Does that hurt anything? The ballot might be a little more cumbersome to handle or sort through, but 5% is an arbitrary data figure that has no meaning. To compound that problem, what if in a year like this year a voter thinks there are more than 10 worthy candidates to receive votes? Jayson Stark of thinks he could viably vote for 19 individual players on this ballot. Because every voter can only vote for 10 total (and they don’t even have to vote for 10 – more on this in a moment) some strong and worthy candidates for enshrinement might miss the 5% threshold for remaining on the ballot just because they came along in a year when 10 other candidates had stronger profiles which compares player #11 only against these 10 and not against the rest of baseball history – and that’s not what the Hall is about.

That brings us to the other flaw – the lack of objective standards for enshrinement. From the Baseball Writers Association of America’s site on Hall of Fame election requirements:

5. Voting - Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

6. Automatic Elections — No automatic elections based on performances such as a batting average of .400 or more for one (1) year, pitching a perfect game or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.

#6 says there are no thresholds to cross for automatic enshrinement. That’s fine, but that means that #5 probably needs to have a lot of ambiguity stripped from it, and tightened up so that all voters could follow a similar standard to viewing eligible players.

barry bonds

The greatest player of this generation won’t get enshrined – this time – because of his ties to PEDs and steroids.

We, unfortunately, don’t have that. What we have is a whole slew of really good candidates who have either been accused of, indicted for, or perhaps been guilty merely by association with PEDs or steroids.

So much ambiguity!

So much, in fact, that writers and voters are all over the place when it comes to taking a stance on steroids and PEDs – some voters flat out refuse to vote for players even remotely associated with their use (and getting beat up online for it):

“As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them.”

…while others take a long view of the Hall of Fame being more of a museum than a sanctuary of angelic players only:

“the Hall of Fame needs to live on as a museum. Where no one tries to apply a giant eraser to any period in history. Even this one.”

When there is so much ambiguity, nothing gets accomplished. And here, players with great achievements on the field won’t receive enshrinement.

While I’m not a voter and my opinion as a baseball fan means nil, as a Lean practitioner focusing on doing things better for the greater good, my stance is this:

Keeping baseball players out of the Hall because of steroid or PED use is the equivalent of customers firing factory workers themselves because the machine given to them by managers was broken through no fault of their own.

Players existed during a time of broken testing and they took advantage because the system allowed it. It is a historical footnote, an occurrence that baseball did not do enough to stop. The process was broken, a process the players had nothing to do with building or maintaining. If the process was important enough to hold players accountable today, the powers that be in baseball should have maintained that process and tightened it long before yesterday.

Also, has anyone noticed that the people responsible for voting – the writers – are not the ones in charge of maintaining that process of keeping the game clean? Voters – writers – are holding players accountable for a broken process provided to everyone by baseball’s management. There are NO checks and balances here at all.

Yes, once, Hall of Fame time really did involve an actual baseball conversation. Then it became a PED conversation. And now, it’s just a flat-out train wreck.

And that’s why the baseball’s Hall of Fame is broken.

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Hitting the Reset Button for 2014

reset button

Significant reflection is needed for 2014, pretty much to the point of a full reset or restart.

As I posted in late 2013, 2013 was both a good year and a pretty tough year. There are three reasons behind why 2013 was difficult:

- One was a health crisis/emergency with my French bulldog Rooster, who I have mentioned in multiple posts, that all but shut down consulting efforts in order to rehabilitate him and had me playing catch-up for almost all of 2013. He’s fine and we’re out of the woods (for the most part).

- The second reason is that promoting change within the sports industry is very, very difficult. It’s not that it’s a lesson I’ve just now had to learn – I’ve known it all along – but the way for me to champion improvement has to be altered.

Change is hard in sports for the same reason it’s hard in other industries, but made even more difficult in that the way organizations try to improve and recruit/promote talent is about 60-70 years behind traditional businesses/industries. That’s not hyperbole. The supply of sports job seekers is so, so great compared to the availability of roles that sports organizations can afford to pay menial wages to interns and temporary labor while still bringing in the employees with the greatest energy. Once you’re in, the way you stay in (for most organizations, not all) is by working really, really hard at tasks you are told to do and not making waves. I’ve been there and I know this is fact. This doesn’t necessarily promote a culture of Kaizen thinking.

Because so much of the dealings in the sports industry are in the public eye, so many on-field and off-the-field problems come to the surface and get fussed over on sports talk radio or SportsCenter – coaches having decisions questioned, signings/hirings/firings, off-the-field issues affecting awards and victories, concussions in football, steroids in baseball, and on and on. There is so much that COULD be covered by the blog that it’s overwhelming to choose topics.

- The third reason is that the statement of value proposition needs to be clear and communicated to the right individuals, and I have not yet accomplished either of those successfully. This blog is to serve as a training and communication medium on how Lean and continuous improvement principles can serve the sports industry.

Leadership is not about maintaining the status quo – leadership is about implementing and managing change. Sports organization leaders have typically come up the ranks from the lowest levels of organizations – NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell started out in the mail room at NFL Headquarters – and they lack knowledge about continuous improvement principles. Leaders want change and improvement, but maybe don’t have awareness of what continuous improvement methods exist. This blog needs to provide that awareness.

Reflecting back, I have tightened up the scope of blog post topics (staying within the bounds of continuous improvement and sports) but I also have not set the foundation for what Lean and continuous improvement is.

Melky Cabrera San Francisco Giants PED Suspension 50 Games Major League Baseball MLB Lean Blitz Consulting

(Photo from Bleacher Report – Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

So what the blog has evolved into is a mish-mash of evaluating problems popping up in sports and reported by the media. I’ve been taking articles, interviews, reports, and game accounts and discussing Lean/CI tools that could have helped produce better results…without properly explaining the significance of the tools or where in the great hierarchy of continuous improvement the tools and techniques lie.

I’ve been writing as if my target audience is only CI practitioners who like to read about sports – knowledgeable about the tools already but interested in reading about the application in sports. My target audience has to become the sports industry and anyone seeking knowledge about the CI tools.

As a result of these three things, I’m basically hitting the reset button in the third year of writing about Lean in sports. A framework for approaching continuous improvement and setting the foundation for the approach to educating/writing about Lean in sports organizations will be coming soon.

We have to get back to basics here at Lean Blitz Consulting.

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