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Playing Fast – American Football and Lean

By Ron Updated on June 22nd, 2021

I am a big, OK fanatical, Ohio State University football (American football) fan. I grew up in Ohio and as my Mom says, “You can take the boy out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the boy.”

I grew up watching Ohio State play football before I even realized what it was. Thanks to satellite TV my children are learning the same lesson – even though we now live in Texas. Yes, this past year has been tough (losing to the same school in two successive National Championship games) but nonetheless, I love the Buckeyes and always will.

My favorite Ohio State website is theozone.net where I recently read about the difference between “playing fast” and “being fast.”

“When 40 times are measured there aren’t a whole lot of variables. You have a runner, a start line, and a finish line. When the timer says go, the runner runs as fast as he can from the start line to the finish. Pretty simple. It isn’t all that simple on a football field.”

It goes on to say,

“When the ball is snapped, players have to determine a whole lot of things before they can take that first step to show off that great 40 speed, and that’s where the difference between being fast and playing fast starts. It doesn’t matter how fast you can run. If takes you forever to determine just where to run, you’re going to get there late no matter how fast you are.”

Like Lean?

I see great parallels between “playing fast” on the football field and “playing fast” on the shop floor or office area.  For example, if a company focuses solely on “flow” and creates the smoothest running production system known to mankind, yet they don’t build to what their customer actually wants they are not playing fast.

Additionally, if a company lives and dies with MRP scheduling the entire shop, thus creating a massive push system, instead of only producing what is needed when it is needed (i.e. pull) they are not playing fast.

Next, if operators or office workers do not have clear work standards or instructions and there is no indication of a visual workplace it is impossible to play fast since they are playing blindfolded and likely running into walls (not literally but you know what I mean)!

Lastly, if machines are breaking down, changeovers take too long, and defects are often passed on we are not playing fast.

Stop Thinking

The article spoke about how the best football players are those that don’t have to think and can instead simply react to what is happening in front of them. This seems to contradict what TPS (‘Thinking’ Production System) is all about, right?

To some extent, I would agree. However, if we take this comment to mean operators should know exactly what to do and when to do it without having to wonder what to do next speed and efficiency results.  It is in this spirit that I would agree with the “no thinking” mindset.

However, when we are encountered with problems or opportunities for kaizen we do have to put our thinking caps on. I parallel this with a football team’s “halftime adjustments” (something my Bucks failed to do in Arizona this past January but I digress). If you have any more analogies to how a company can “play fast” please do share.

  1. Jon Miller

    April 12, 2007 - 11:14 am

    In Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management there is a story he tells about one of the companies he is teaching. They were proud that their workers were “fast” but he pointed out that having fast hands is not the same thing as working wthe fastest machine or process doesn’t help if you’ve got hiccups in your supply chain execution process.

  2. Jon Miller

    April 12, 2007 - 11:16 am

    Looks like part of the comment got chopped out. Should read:

    …having fast hands is not the same thing as working efficiently. Having the fastest…

  3. Ron Pereira

    April 12, 2007 - 12:26 pm

    That reminds of the story in The Toyota Way (I think this is where I read this) of how standard work documents face away from Toyota workers since they know what to do. The documents are so others (managers, etc.) can verify the work is really being done correctly. Yet another great Toyota example of playing fast.

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