Lessons from the NFL: Calling Plays in Your Operation


Lessons from the NFL: Calling Plays in Your Operation

Unlocking the value in your operation requires a specific work design that maximizes the utilization of resources. One of the key resources is labor, and much like the positions on a football field, each person in the operation needs a special role and efforts coordinated to produce the best outcome.

The NFL serves as a great model for utilizing labor because plays change every down and there is an emphasis on each player to play his role.

Plays Change Every Down

Circumstances change throughout the entire course of a football game. Those circumstances are often described in terms of down and distance.  There is a big difference between “second down and ten” and “fourth down and one.” The strategy each team employs is to have a prescribed set of plays (standard work) for each circumstance.

Each play has a specific starting position for each person and a specific role for each person to play. The timing of activities is critical and very closely coordinated. The team has a playbook with a visual representation of each play. The outcome is not certain, but the expectation is clear and allows the team to learn and adjust through the course of the game.

Processes like changeover, preventative maintenance, and manufacturing cells all lend themselves to the same structure. Each specific role can be defined, timed, and tightly coordinated based on the circumstances. A playbook with visual representation of the work is possible.

For example, a hotel registration desk can “run” separate plays depending on who is checking in. It can have a different plays for a single guest check-in, multiple guest check-in, and tour bus check-in.

Play Your Role

There is a strong emphasis in the NFL for each player to play his role on the field. Many of the players are just that: role players. Success requires each player to do his predefined part every play in the game.

The same is true in operations. Each person must execute the play as it was defined (follow the standard work). This way the team, or in this case the organization, can learn and adjust plays based on the result. This simple but powerful analogy of running plays in your operation is critical to utilizing labor effectively.

Finally, it can be fun. Most people can relate to the game of American football and many have seen the charts of X’s and O’s that make up a playbook. Take the idea to your teams and ask them to draw up the plays as they see them. Who should do what when? Using terms like, “let’s run the tour bus play” gives the task a sense of playing a game to win.

And probably the greatest lesson from the NFL is the desire to win….

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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