A Few More Kaizen Ideas Involving Tennis Balls

By Jon Miller Published on March 23rd, 2008

The article 50 Great Things you Never Knew you Could do with Tennis Balls on the The Life Hackery website complies a list of dozens of creative things you can do with tennis balls. I carry a tennis ball in my computer bag as a stress relieving tool. If you see a man in an airport with his back against the wall squirming against the wall with a tennis ball on his back, that might be me rubbing out the tension from long flights.
These 50 ideas are great as a way to help people see how creative you can be when doing kaizen. A tennis ball is an everyday thing that is not hard to come by, yet we can find many unexpected uses for them. Most of these 50 uses are cheaper and arguably just as effective as the standard engineered solution. They may be “quick and dirty” fixes but they work. The added benefits of the tennis-ball-as-masseuse are immediate availability, zero cost after initial investment and no funny looks from clients for having “massage” on your hotel bill.
Reading this list a number of Toyota Production System applications of tennis balls came to mind. First is the tennis ball andon. Instead of a fancy system of lights to indicate problems with equipment or production lines, how about raising a pole (broom stick?) with a tennis ball attached to one end? It’s a visual, unambiguous sign that there is a problem (unless of course you happen to be in a tennis ball factory…). Another idea is to experiment with tennis ball kanban. For simple signaling from upstream and downstream within a process you could use two colors to indicate withdrawal or production kanban. Tennis balls could be used as simple guards on sharp edges or corners, on a temporary basis. The bright yellow color could also be a visual alert for a temporary safety measure. For quick equipment moves of tables or light equipment without wheels, cutting tennis balls in half and using them as feet might reduce friction and help them slide into position. This is a hypothesis and merits some trying.
What other ways can you think of to use tennis balls to help your TPS implementation?
I recommend taking a copy of the Life Hackery article and a couple of tubes of tennis balls to your next kaizen or team-based problem solving exercise and challenging people to come up with 50 practical every day uses of tennis balls that are cheaper and better. Then study the thinking behind these ideas and apply the same thought process to making improvements in your workplace or your life.

  1. Brian

    March 25, 2008 - 8:42 am

    Jon, I love your blog. I am a new to Lean and you do an excellent job explaining the concepts and making them easy to understand. Keep up the outstanding work!

  2. Jon Miller

    March 26, 2008 - 10:54 am

    Thanks Brian.
    I like how you linked the quote from Kant with “going to gemba” on your blog, although it’s ironic to note that Kant never traveled far from his home town while musing on the nature of God and far off galaxies…

  3. Jim

    March 27, 2008 - 9:41 am

    I’ve seen them used (well it was coloured golf balls) as Kanban cards. In an old warren of a building, when a worker took a part they would take the golf ball that came with the part and start it rolling down a 25 meter set of guttering until it came to a rest. Here the worker would pick it up look at the colour and the number on the ball and instantly know what was needed. This has been my favorite Kanban and I’m still waiting an opportunity to use it myself.

  4. Michael Baker

    March 31, 2008 - 5:25 am

    The first thing that came to my mind is something like at a bank. If you needed something from the warehouse, you could use a tennis ball, place it in the air tube, and poof – it would be gone. This would let the warehouse know is needed.
    Not sure of the cost savings etc…. but it would look pretty cool seeing the different colored balls flying around in the overhead.

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