What games do you play? (I don’t mean chess or tiddlywinks, but games in support of your organisation’s lean journey.) I would love to hear from you about the games you have tried, those that you outgrew, those that you still use, etc. Also, what do you expect the games to contribute to the learning of those that play them? How have those expectations changed as your use of the game or games has matured?

I can rattle off many games that I have tried and abandoned. One, one of the many ‘Lego’ games, I abandoned without even trying it! (I bought the kit but found it too long and complex for what I needed at the time.) The ‘Chain Gang’ game was developed by a student group as part of an assignment. I used it in many different settings over many years – I even presented the story of my learning curve with the game at an international conference about ten years ago!

There are two games that I currently use. One is the so-called ‘Domino’ game that I developed last year in support of our Lean Transformation and Kata workshop. I modified a more complex and longer game I played at the 2015 Kata Summit in Fort Lauderdale, USA. (Mike Rother and the Kata community, like much of the lean community in general, are highly committed to an ‘open source’ approach of sharing and learning rather than jealously protecting or commercially exploiting their IP. He encouraged me to go ahead and modify as served my purpose.)

The Domino game helps people to experience cycles of the ‘Coaching Kata’ in the context of a visual management board. Several companies have gone on to apply the cycles as part of their own management systems. The game, plus the Coaching Kata concept, has taken my thinking off into experimenting with ‘scripted conversations’ to drive continuous improvement.

But, by a long shot, the ‘Balloon’ game is my favourite! Developed about ten years ago by two doctors then at Groote Schuur (Heather Tuffin and Zameer Brey), it has proven enduringly popular (and effective) in different settings. Many of you will have experienced it – if so, what did you learn from it, as you now look back?

These are some of the things the Bus Accident Survivor Game (the game’s original name) can help participants learn about, and, to some extent, experience:

  • Team organisation
  • Throughput Time
  • Takt Time
  • Visual Management
  • Operator Balance Chart
  • Manager as teacher who asks ‘humble enquiry’ questions
  • Process mapping
  • Current Condition
  • Target Condition
  • Bottleneck concepts
  • Standard Work
  • Elimination of waste
  • Cycle Time
  • PDCA
  • Line balancing
  • 5S
  • (I could go on…)

We often get requests from organisations that have been introduced to lean through the Balloon game for ‘more please, for more people’ because those who experienced the game want others in their work settings to also have a vision of the lean journey and of what a lean management approach can achieve. Somehow the Balloon game does these things.

Dr Heather Tuffin, co-developer of the Balloon game, has developed and used several other games over the years – she is quite something when it comes to contributing original ideas! She has held a variety of healthcare improvement positions in the past ten years and is now part of the nascent Collaborative Healthcare Improvement (CHI) initiative set up by the Department of Health in the Western Cape. Heather, along with many other local and international experienced lean practitioners, will be contributing to the Lean Healthcare Summit on 7th September in Johannesburg.

We won’t be doing much ‘game playing’ at the Lean Healthcare Summit, but will be sharing with each other the latest real-life insights and experiences of improving healthcare via the lean transformation journey, from South Africa and abroad. Dr John Toussaint, pioneer of, and expert in, lean healthcare, will be one of our keynote speakers. Even if you are not in healthcare, you may well find it worth checking out!

Returning to lean games: they are widely used; there are many: some quick, others are played over days; they mature – we gain insights about them, and from them, and over time they enable us to enrich our learning and those of others. What is your favourite? What does it do for you and your organisation? I would love to hear from you. Perhaps a future LIA newsletter could summarise the feedback you give me?

Play well.

Kind regards,