The Koosh Ball Company
- To demonstrate the difference between continuous improvement and reengineering of a process.
- To demonstrate the need for innovation when reengineering a process.
- To develop participants’ awareness of behaviors that may obstruct or undermine innovation.
- To develop participants’ awareness of behaviors that may contribute to process innovation.
- 15 to 30 participants.
- Approximately 30 minutes
- A set of three Koosh balls or any soft balls (palm size) in three different colours.
- A stop watch
- A prepared overhead transparency or flip-chart sheet of “The Koosh Ball Company Policy” and appropriate markers.
- Paper and a pencil or pen for recording data.
- A room large enough for the team to toss balls around. A hallway can be used if necessary
- Explain to the groups that they are workers for the Koosh Ball Company.
- Take out the three balls of different colours.
- Say to the group: “I have 3 balls of x colour, y colour and z colour. I’m going to toss each ball to one person in the order of x, y, z. After you catch the balls, select someone else in the room and toss all three balls to that person, in the same order. That person will do the same until everyone in the room has had a chance to catch all three balls.” Repeat the instructions if necessary, but do not go into further detail.
- Toss the three balls, one at a time, to one person in the room. Make note of the order of the colours you have tossed.
- Record this person’s name on a sheet of paper for future reference.
- As the balls are tossed between participants, make no comment, and express no indication of whether they are correct or not.
- When the last person has caught all three balls, ask if there is anyone who did not catch all three balls. If someone has not, continue until the last person has all three balls.
- Collect the three balls from the last person and record this person’s name.
- You will now know the Start (1st person you tossed the balls to) and End (last person who received all 3 Koosh Balls) points in the process.
- Announce to the group: “I am the President of the Koosh Ball Company and am quite disappointed in your performance. During this process, balls were damaged (dropped) and passed incorrectly (wrong order of balls, same person receiving them more than once, etc.) and it took a long time for the process. Accordingly, I have created a simple policy which, if followed correctly, should improve your efficiency, eliminate damage, and reduce repetition.”
- Display the Koosh Ball Company Policy that’s printed on the PowerPoint slide. Read it to the group. Do not solicit questions. If any questions are asked, refer the person to the policy. It is simple and clear.
- Give the three balls to the same person who started the process. This is the process Start point. Tell the person to begin the process by shouting “Start”, when they’re ready. When the last person (the same as the original process) catches all three balls, they should “Stop”.
- Advise participants that you are also concerned about the lengthy amount of time it took so you will be timing the process.
- When the first person shouts “Start”, start the stop watch. Also record observations about the process as the balls are passed between participants. When the last person shouts “Stop”, stop the stop watch.
- Record the time down in a corner of the Koosh Ball Company Policy (on the PowerPoint slide or on a flip chart) so that everyone can see it.
- Tell the participants that while they were busy with this process, an opportunity was presented to you from a company in China. Tell participants:”My sources in China claim that if I close down this plant and move all production to China, the workers there can not only eliminate damage (dropped ball) and waste (repetition), but can improve on your processing time. Now I like all of you, and would rather not close down this location, but it is an attractive offer. So I put to you a challenge. Eliminate damage and waste and improve on your processing time. Then perhaps I’ll consider keeping this operation going.”
- Give the three balls to the same person who started the last time. Tell them to shout “Start” when they’re ready and remind the group that the last person should shout “Stop” after catching the last three balls. Advise them that you will again record the total processing time.
- When the first person shouts “Start”, start the stop watch. Record your observations about the process, and stop timing when the last person shouts “Stop”.
- Record the time next to the first time and mark it as number two.
- After this round, tell the group:”I’m impressed with the improvement. However, there was still some damage and waste. While you were working on this process I had an opportunity presented to me from a company in Mexico. They claim that if I close down this location and move it to Mexico, they will eliminate damage and waste and improve on the processing time. I would rather not close down this plant, but it is an attractive offer. My challenge to you is to ensure that there is no damage or waste and to improve on the processing time. Then perhaps I’ll consider keeping this location operating.”
- Give the three balls to the same person who started the last process. Tell the person that when they are ready to shout “Start”. When the last person (as per the original process) catches all three balls, they should shout “Stop”. Advise participants that you will be timing the process.
- Record this processing time, making this time as number three.
- Again, address all participants. Tell them: “While this process was going on, I had an opportunity to talk to a number of consultants who have worked with similar processes in other organizations. They claim that this process can be done in less than one second. I said ‘No way. They said they could show us how, but can’t come for another week. They suggested firing all of you and replacing you with new employees who have fresh ideas. I really do like all of you and would rather not fire you, but it is an attractive idea to be able to process the Koosh balls in less than one second. I could make a lot more money. My challenge to you is to reduce the processing time to one second or less with no damage or waste. Otherwise I’ll have to fire all of you.”
- Give the three balls to the same person who started the last process. Tell the participants that you need to leave for a few minutes and that you suggested that the team take some time to discuss the challenge ahead of them. Tell them to call you when they are ready for you to time the process again. Move away from the group and allow them to identify a radically new approach.
- When they call you back, time the process one last time and record it again. Applaud their efforts (if they do it in less than one second).
- Review the notes you took during each process with the group. Include what was said and how others reacted. Undoubtedly, the comments would be things like “Can’t do that” or “That’s not in the rules” or “It’s against the Koosh Ball Policy.” Other comments may include, “That’ll never work,” or “This is a better idea,” etc.”
- Depending upon the goal of the exercise, you include some debrief questions. You can consider asking some of these questions before you debrief your observations or afterwards.
- What happened to people’s innovative ideas early in the process?
- Did management encourage or discourage innovative ideas?
- At the beginning of the process, you were looking for ways to continuously improve the process. Then the climate changed, and you had to rethink the entire process. Why didn’t the team immediately decide to strive for a one-second process?
- What ideas were shouted out by team members but shot down. Why?
- What ideas were shouted out by team members but tried? Why? (i.e.; strong personality, determined, spoke the loudest, etc.)
If the group is larger than thirty:
- Create tables/team of approximately 20 individuals.
- Ask each team to select someone as an Observer.
- Bring the Observers to the front of the room
- Give each several copies of the Observer Sheet (they may require one per Koosh Ball process round)
- Give them each a stop watch
- Give them 3 different coloured Koosh Balls
- Advise the Observers that they must not share any information on their Observer Sheets with anyone in their teams.
- As well, they should have a paper and pen in order to record their team’s name as well as the start and end points in the process.
- Ask each team to identify a “Team Name” so you can refer to them as the exercise begins.
- Create a PowerPoint slide with a column for team names and a column for processing time. Record the various team names in the appropriate column.
- Ask each team to select an Engine (who will begin the process) and Caboose (who will end the process).
- Explain the exercise and have each Observer, in their team, toss all 3 Koosh Balls to the selected Engine and to stop the process when all Cabooses have caught all 3 Koosh Balls.
- Debrief the full group by giving them the Koosh Ball Company Policy.
- Continue as per the previous instructions.
There are many solutions. Two of them follow:
- Each person creates a funnel with his/her hands by placing the thumbs and fingertips of both hands together to form a circular shape. Then each person places his or her hands on top of another’s in the original order to form a funnel from top to bottom. Some people may have to crouch, while other stretch above them. The starting person drops all three balls in the order of x, y, z colors so that each ball passes through the people’s hands to the last person.
- All the team members stand together to from a tight circle around the first person, facing in. They hold up the palms of their hands in front of them, facing the center person. The first person holds the three balls in the correct order and spins around, touching each person’s hands in the order of x, y, z colors.
The Koosh Ball Company Policy
- Balls must be passed in the same order:
- X colour
- Y colour
- Z colour
- Balls must be passed through the same order of individuals.
- Everyone must touch the balls
Make notes on these questions:
- Record the number of ideas shouted out by the team members.
- Record the ideas shouted out.
- Record the ideas that were shot down by other team members
- What were some of your observed blockages and barriers to ideas that happened in the team?
- How did the team, if at all, overcome these blockages and barriers?
- How did the team decide to implement the solution that they did implement?
Additional Questions To The Group
- What ideas were shouted out by team members but shot down?
- Why? What innovation blockers were used?
- What ideas were should out by team members but tried?
- Why? What innovation promoters were used.?
- How does one innovate in a friendly environment? (by using words such as good, excellent, try it, etc.)
- How does one innovate in a threatening environment? (don’t as they hear words such as stupid, we tried that one before, there’s not money, etc.)
- What do you see as the difference between continuous improvement and reengineering in this process?
- Why couldn’t the team immediately come to the conclusion that they should strive for a one second (or close to it) process right at the beginning?
- Why didn’t the team use some of the tools available to them for problem solving which were available in the room i.e.; flip charts, yellow stickies, etc.