Traveling frequently on airplanes this past year, I started playing mobile games to pass the time or take a break from work in the flying office. I’ve been playing classics like Tetris and new ones like Geometry. I’m not a big gamer; you’ll never see my name on the Leader Board. I quickly get bored or, worse, start feeling like a hamster in a wheel. And the reason, I realized recently, is that most games are anti-Lean, which is opposite my DNA.

Lean is Simplicity

Lean is all about making processes simple and mistake-free, so that everyone can accomplish the work and deliver customer value successfully every time. Mobile games, on the other hand, are purposefully designed with obstacles and distractions that players must overcome to win.

For example, in Tetris when you create a full row of blocks there’s a bright flash of white light when they disappear. Why? Those blocks could just quietly exit and leave you ready for the next shape placement. But, no, that bright white flash distracts you and makes placing the next shape harder. And the faster the pace, the more that flash negatively impacts your performance.

Another obstacle is the placement of the buttons on the screen that hold and rotate the shapes. I occasionally hit the wrong one with usually disastrous consequences. Can you relocate the buttons to your liking? Heck no! To succeed, you’ve got to work around the designer’s (imho poor) placement. Leader boards recognize people who overcame ALL these obstacles; they are the successful few.

Work Is Full of Distractions and Obstacles

Gaming builds and reinforces the mentality that success means overcoming distracting obstacles and, unfortunately, this bleeds into the workplace. Isn’t your work full of obstacles to overcome that are, from the customer’s point of view, completely unnecessary? Poor layout of equipment or personnel. Long, pointless meetings. Arcane approval processes. Outdated tools and policies.

Getting a good performance rating is, in essence, getting a high placement on the company leader board. The people at the top overcame the obstacles and distractions thrown their way this past year. Frequently, their individual success is used to rationalize that a business process isn’t broken a la “If Kim can do it, why can’t you?” You don’t want a process that only ONE person can do successfully. Your customers want value every time from everyone and L&D is in a perfect position to help.

Use Your Outsider Perspective to Advantage

Instead of simply providing training on how to navigate the obstacles, L&D should work to simplify processes and make them mistake-proof by using Lean principles and methods. Now, some of you are thinking ‘Who am I to tell Sales (or Accounting or Manufacturing or Nursing) what to do?’ Your outside perspective is incredibly valuable! You’re not stuck in the weeds of their process and can ask simple, enlightening questions.

For example, ‘Does this expense account form really need all 21 fields?’, ‘Wouldn’t swapping these two steps is our patient admitting process make it go faster?’, ‘Why is this data entered three different times?’ Using Lean root cause analysis techniques like the ‘5 Why’s’ you can help people think about their own processes in new ways. As a result, processes will be simpler, therefore easier to teach and easier to do correctly. It’s win-win.

Win ‘The Game of Work’

The ‘game of work’ is to eliminate waste; not do wasteful activities as quickly and as many times as possible. Start keeping a list of the unnecessary, distracting obstacles in your company’s work that people ask you to teach others. Discuss them with your colleagues and managers and work together to reduce or, better yet, eliminate them. Want to jump start your efforts? Give me a call at 303.819.6662.

And if you want to play a game that won’t quickly bore you or make you feel like a hamster on a wheel, try Neko Atsume, the cat collecting game sweeping the planet. Or how about, to quote a famous movie computer,  “a nice game of chess?”

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick