I wrote previously about a kaizen event I attended recently at Food Sciences Corp. in
I’m sure this is not a new technique, but it was one I had never experienced before.
Sal Runfola, director of operations at Food Sciences and the person directing our event, had six members of our group stand around a conference room. He gave a tennis ball to one man, who was instructed to toss it to someone else. The second person had to toss it again, but only to someone who hadn’t touched it before. This went on until the sixth person had the ball.
This created a “process” for tossing the tennis ball. It had to be touched by each person, in the order established by the first set of tosses, and that order could not be changed.
Next, Sal gave three tennis balls to the first man and told him to send each one through the process, one after another. This effort was timed; it took 10 seconds.
Sal then ordered the group to significantly reduce the time it took for three balls to go through the process.
The men rearranged themselves, so that instead of standing on opposite sides of the room, they were in a line, in process order. With this formation, processing three balls took four seconds.
Sal’s response: Not good enough.
Ultimately, the men formed a tight circle, their hands in the center, so that the first man could simply drop the balls, having them roll down the hands, touching each man in order. Cycle time was reduced to one second.
The point Sal made afterward was that he had told the group to improve the process, but had not said anything about how to improve it. The men had to come up with that themselves.
And that’s what lean, in at least one respect, is all about – getting those directly involved with a process to creatively come up with improvement ideas while managers get out of the way.
Want your people to learn lean? Go buy some tennis balls.