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A Common Lean Problem: Mismatched Expectations

I am an aspiring golfer who plays less than half a dozen rounds of golf a year. (My translation of aspiring means I have been golfing for a long time without any real improvement.) To gain some perspective about my skills, the average golf score in the US right now is around a hundred. My average is a little higher than that-I’d guess it is somewhere around 105 or so.

Lean Problem Solving With Golf

Lean Problem Solving With Golf

There is one thing I do extremely well on occasion, though. I can pummel the ball and make it sail down the middle of the fairway. Unfortunately, that occasion only occurs about once every other round or so. It is great fun when I connect like that and the people around me look on in awe. It almost makes up for the countless times I shank the balls into the woods and have people looking at me like I’m the northern end of a southbound mule.

One time when I was out golfing, my partner mentioned that if I only used my seven iron and a putter, I would play the best game of my life. Well, I didn’t do that, but it did get me thinking of how I would improve my game if I applied Lean problem solving principles to it.

I’d define the problem: my score is too high. I’d do a process walk and run the numbers. I’d almost certainly come away with a Pareto chart that shows my driver being the source of the majority of my excess strokes. I could improve by simply pulling my driver out of my bag and using a long iron off the tee. Far less distance, but far more control which translates into better scores. In fact, I tried that and scored a 90.

But that’s where a common Lean problem comes into play. The value I get from the game is not just in the score I walk away with. It is also the fun I get when I connect with a great drive. I really don’t want to give that up. So I put my driver back in the bag knowing I was adding a bundle of strokes back onto my score.

For the people in a Lean environment, the problem can be similar. Less walking may be an improvement for the company, but might reduce the employee’s chance to connect with a friend now and then. See the potential problem with Lean? When there is a mismatched set of expectations and goals, a gain might not really be a gain. If there is a small savings of time, but employees are more dissatisfied as a result, the improvement may not make it to the bottom line.

A better solution is when leaders really focus on the people on their teams and learn what makes them tick. For me, it’s using my driver. In the Lean example I gave, it might be relationships with coworkers.

That’s not to say that work has to be all fun and games, but it doesn’t have to be a hardship, either. When people are satisfied and engaged at work, it shows up in the bottom line. The numbers bear this out. Look at Fortune magazine’s 100 best places to work. You’ll also be looking at a list of a lot of highly profitable companies.

You know, I’m just realizing that I posted this article with some outdated information about my scores. If this really was a Lean problem solving effort, I would recommend getting some more current information. In the interest of practicing what I preach, I should probably go out to the course this week and do a little bit of ‘data collecting’…


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Share Your Thoughts    |2 comments|


  • Hi Jeff,
    I think you have a passion for the driver and for hitting that ONE stroke in the middle of the fairway.
    If you can master that shot, you would be a lot more passionate player, because you would forget how it is to walk around in bushes all the time.
    The same thing should happen in the workplace: every leader’s work should be to transmit the passion for the work to their employees and to make them master their own work.
    That is how the continuous improvement takes place in my opinion…

    • Jeff Hajek says:

      I keep toying with the idea of launching a formal Lean project to improve my golf game, and writing about my progress. I’m convinced that the basic tools of kaizen would make me a good golfer.

      You are definitely right about what makes Lean work–without engaged employees, it becomes a battle for leaders to make improvements.

      Thanks for the comments.

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