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Are You Playing Today’s Game or Yesterday’s?

by Josh Howell
October 18, 2013

Are You Playing Today’s Game or Yesterday’s?

by Josh Howell
October 18, 2013 | Comments (1)

The whistle blows, “Time out!” As the basketball players head off to rest, the teams’ coaches huddle to prepare a game plan. Let’s listen in on each team’s huddle.


Team Here and Now:

“2:05 left to go, coach. We’re up 4. All their starters have reentered the game. It’s gonna be a battle for momentum going into the half.”

“Our starter’s defense has been no match for their starter’s offense. They seem to score at will. In fact, the margin is +11. Thankfully, our non-starters have shot the ball well. Should we put Steele and Skraper in from off the bench to try and shut them down?”

“Steele, yes. Skraper, no. Steele has made two 3-pointers tonight. We could use another one right now. Skraper, although solid on defense, is 0 for 5 shooting. He can’t seem to hit the side of a barn. I’d recommend Captain. His defense ain't bad, and that hook shot - he never misses!”

“All right, Steele in for Gas, he’s exhausted. Captain in for Olé. I’ll draw it up so that the ball is in Bulzie’s hands for the rest of the half.”


Team Day Late and a Dollar Short:

“We usually end up with 55 points in the first half - only 5 more and we’ll beat the average!”

“When our starters finish off the half, chances are 61% that we’ll end up winning the game! And they really tend to accelerate their scoring going into the half.”

“Our defense is usually the problem. When our starters are in, they hold teams who pass well to a 35% shooting percentage. They only really get into trouble when the offense relies on a single scorer. In these cases, shooting percentage increases 17 points. It’s ok though, 74% of the time teams rely on passing the ball around in order to find an open shooter.”

“It sounds like our game plan is solid. Why mess around with it if it’s been working?”


Ah, a sports metaphor. Everyone’s favorite, I know. Growing up in the Hoosier state, it’s all that I’ve got, so I ask that you forgive me.

On a recent on-site coaching visit, I shadowed another coach as they walked the sales floor with a retail store manager. The visit centered on customer survey feedback indicating an opportunity with employee “friendliness” in a specific area of the store. The survey said (Family Feud, anyone?)... that only 53% of customers were “highly satisfied.” 

Drawing on this historical data point, the coach asked questions like:

  • “Are you satisfied with this result?” (“Ummmm. No?”)
  • “Why might customers provide this feedback?” (“Well, we can be a grumpy group sometimes.”)
  • “What are you going to do to fix it?” (“I’ll tell everyone to smile more.”)
  • “Have you already tried that?” (“I guess so…”)
  • “Since that doesn’t seem to be working, what might you do differently?” (“Smile wider?”) 

Meanwhile, I observed three customers approach this particular area of the store who were not greeted because the employees had their backs turned, doing work at a rear counter. In my experience in retail (an unusual background for a Lean practitioner and coach, I know), this type of disconnected “coaching” happens all the time! Historical data and assumptions are used to jump to theoretical “solutions.”

In my own practice as a lean coach, one countermeasure for this tendency is to limit the scope of a coaching visit to “this hour’s work.” This accomplishes two things. First, it focuses our attention on the actual work being done, an unusual practice in retail. (“You mean to tell me that we won’t use this stack of reports I printed?” “No.”). Second, it requires us to base discussions on observable, measurable facts. This creates the basis for some real-time problem solving! 

Imagine an alternate universe where a coaching visit like this one above begins with an understanding that friendliness is an opportunity, based upon a survey. The visit then focuses on observing and measuring behaviors that contribute to a customer’s perspective of “friendliness.” We might measure how often customers are greeted within 10 seconds of arriving, how often they are greeted with a smile, how many times the customer interaction is interrupted, how often the customer is thanked and how often this is accompanied by a smile. With gaps in desired behavior identified, opportunities exist to start asking “why?”. Say… five times?

Back to the sports metaphor! It would seem obvious that the coaching staff making a plan based on facts from the actual game being played will have a better chance at success than the staff basing their planning solely on historical data and trends. In real life though, it’s not always so simple. When was the last meeting you attended where actual, real-time facts were available for the discussion? Is such a thing even possible in a meeting?

As my colleague Danielle Blais recently put it, “No really. Go to the gemba.”  

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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1 Comment | Post a Comment
Hollie Jensen October 22, 2013
1 Person AGREES with this comment

How useful is customer information that is over 30 days old…how many customers have we disappointed in the last 30 days until we received our “report” to tell us that our customers are concerned about our cleanliness, friendliness or accuracy?  Focusing on what happens in the moment gives us the opportunity to REALLY do something about our problems NOW.  Powerful!

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