The 3 Best Lean Games Every Company Should Learn to Play

games Jul 19, 2021

Confucius may have been the first experiential teacher…

Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.
– Confucius, circa 450 BC.

At St Andrews Lean Consulting we agree with Confucius - getting involved is the best way to learn. This is why Lean games are such a valuable tool for organisations on their Lean journeys. 

The 5S Numbers Game 

5S is an approach for workplace organisation; it drives workplace efficiency and productivity improvement. 5S is a series of steps that can be used in the Implementation Stage of the SALC 8 Step process improvement Model, but is also an everyday “Good Practice” on which organisations can build strong foundations for Continuous Improvement.

Translated from the Japanese words seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke, the 5S’s are Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. But don’t mistake 5S for Housekeeping or Spring Cleaning. “Workplace organisation” may mislead one into believing 5S is a tool for optimisation of office cleanliness, or just a general tidy up of the workspace. It is much more than that, it refers to the way each element in the workplace is managed and organised.

How do we play the 5S Numbers Game? 

The aim of the game is to demonstrate how valuable 5S can be in your organisation when utilised properly. Each sheet of paper represents a workplace

Step 1:  The first sheet shows a pre-5S workplace. During a single shift (20 seconds) the task is to strike out numbers 1 to 50 in the correct sequence. 123, … Record everyone’s score, they highest number they struck out. Lowest score becomes the score for whole team.

Step 2: The first ‘S’, Sort. We know the task is to strike out numbers 1 to 50, therefore numbers 51 and above are not required, and so they can be taken out.  Repeat the task and record the score.

Step 3: Straighten, the second ‘S’. We have installed the grid system. Now we can look through the numbers more effectively as they are in smaller more organised groups. We have provided a home for everything. Repeat the task and record the score.

Step 4: The third ‘S’, Shine. Is everything fit for purpose? We have cleaned up all the numbers, they are all clearly visible. Repeat the task and record the score.

Step 5: Now the fourth ‘S’, Standardise. Here we define the standard we want to work to. We know the task requires us to strike through 1 to 50 in order, so let’s reorganise to make the completion of the task as efficient as possible. Repeat the task and record the score. By this stage everyone should be able to complete the task within the shift, with a team score of 50.

Step 6: Let’s start again, back to our pre-5S workplace. But this time, we’re looking to see what numbers are missing! Can the team find the missing numbers within 20 seconds?

Step 7: If our workplace had been 5S’d this is what it would look like, and it would be easy to see which numbers were missing. To reinforce the point, can the team find the missing numbers within 20 seconds? Off course they can.

Step 8: The final ‘S’, Sustain. This step is all about custom and practice, keeping the right things in the right place. 5S has become a good habit, the way we do things around here. It’s so much easier now to find what you need and to identify problems.

Skills, tools, and techniques the 5S Game may help you with include 5S (that’s a surprise!), implementing a new process, and Daily Lean.

Want to know more about 5S? Take a look at: https://www.standrewslean.com/resources

The Standard Fish Game 

Our next game will show up the Picasso’s and the van Gogh’s in your work force.

What is The Standard Fish Game all about?

Standardised work is arguably one of the most powerful but under-utilised lean tools. By documenting the best-current practice you ensure that every client or customer receives the same offering, reduction in variation, easier training for new team members and you set a baseline for continuous improvement. As the standard improves, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements and so on.

So, the Standard Fish Game is all about documenting the process for drawing a fish, which matches the service receivers’ requirements.

How do we play The Standard Fish Game? 

Step 1: Ask your team to draw a fish on a sheet of A4. As mentioned before, you will see a vast array of artistic creations. The variation in fish design stems from a lack of instructions on how to draw a fish. This is not a documented process. None of fish are draw to a customer specification. Voice of Customer is important concept in any business process.

Step 2: Give your team a sheet of A4 with 3×3 grid on it. Read out the following instructions

  • Draw a letter X in the centre box in the left column. The X should fill the box touching the intersections
  • Draw an upward arc from the top left intersection to the top right intersection
  • Draw a downward arc from the bottom left intersection to the bottom right intersection
  • Draw an arc from the top right intersection to the bottom right intersection
  • Draw a circle for the eye in the middle of the right grid line
  • Draw an upside down V for a fin in the middle of the curve in the top central box
  • Draw two V’s, for fins, spaced evenly apart on the lower central curve
  • Draw a curve from the top left point of the X to the bottom left point of the X to form the tail
  • Draw an arc for the mouth starting at the bottom right intersection. Must be a happy fish!!
  • And finally draw four circles for bubbles – two in the middle of the central right box and two in the top right box

Step 3: Compare the 2 sets of drawings. The second set of drawing will be much more similar. The waste in the process has been eliminated, and the standard of work will be much higher.

Step 4: These sets of instructions may need review. They may not be as comprehensive as first thought. Drawing fish may have developed since the first time your company drew a fish. The customer may now be asking for a shark.

Skills, tools and techniques the Standard Fish Game may help you with include Best Practice, Communication, Standard Work and Variation Reduction.

The Ball Game

Having trouble keeping all your balls in the air? There’s a game for that…

What is The Ball Game all about?

The Ball Game is all about eliminating waste in your company activities and continuously improving processes.

In 2 groups, of no less than 5, all you need to do is pass 3 balls between the 5 of you in the same pattern. Sound simple enough? How quick do you think you can do it? Less than a minute? Not bad. Not as good as 0.5 seconds though. I can hear you saying “0.5 seconds? No, surely not! It takes me 0.3 seconds to blink!!” Let’s look at the process.

This game could be a simulation of any process. From onboarding staff and clients to the Accounts Payable Process. The Ball represents the task and the movement represents how the responsibility passes from team member to team member. We ran this game for a group of clients in 2019. At the beginning of the process the 5 team members were sat around a circular table and they threw the ball to each person. It took them 56 seconds to complete the task. The only rules were:

  • The ball has to have air
  • Everybody must touch the ball
  • It must follow the same pattern each time
  • Start Point is the End Point

One set of our clients re-examined their process and decided that crossing the table wasted too much time. They lined up and tried again. This process of Plan Do Check Act, allowed them to trial and error different approaches. This method took 21 seconds. After a few more tries they got it down to 0.5 seconds. Now you’re thinking “this is not possible, tell us how!!” One member of the team stood in the middle of the group, the other members in a circle round the outside. The member in the middle held the three balls in one hand, the members on the outside held out their opposite hands. Touching each member’s hand with the three balls, the middle member span round in a circle. Phenomenal.

Questions to consider:

  • Imagine cutting all the waste out of your process so that it takes 1/112 of the original time.
  • Which processes in your business could be Leaned?
  • Is there a lot of waste in a process because “that’s the way its always been done”?

Skills, tools and techniques the Ball Game may help you with include Communication, Continuous Improvement, Flow, PDCA, Teamwork and the Eight Wastes.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help, get in touch at [email protected]