Thursday, July 28, 2011

Umpires Go Lean; Deming Does Baseball  

I'm not the smartest batter in the blogosphere, but I'm blessed by having the smartest readers. My perpetual high-performing cloud teammate Joe Ely, an implementer of Lean Manufacturing practices and other management & process refinements, is a noteworthy example. I already know he's a student and a renderer and a teacher of the genius of W. Edwards Deming who also blends in a panoply of other lessons he's absorbed and knitted together to create his own toolbox.

What I didn't know until this week is he's an umpire, as well

I knew that he and I both use continuous improvement techniques along with staff knowledge and morale-building processes to try to simultaneously increase productivity through quality and employee-customer-employer satisfaction. And we are both deeply into Baseball as a process and as an entertainment. 

But a note from him this week about the umpiring win-now-while-setting-yourself-up-to-win-later-too process I wrote about in the previous entry has set me to thinking more about our parallel interests. Perhaps a large part of the reason both Baseball and Lean/Deming appeal to us is that Deming is really a lot about Baseball or that Baseball is really a lot about Lean, or both. ┬┐What if there's a continuous refinement loop that Baseball embodies that approaches the ideal form that each of us, in somewhat different configurations, is trying to embody in our management implementation practices?

A wild-axed thought. Perhaps errant, but if so, only as errant as the long liner that just wraps itself on the wrong side of the fair pole.

As you may remember from the Genius of Umpire Process entry, the Umps have worked out a most-elegant process of assigning talent to provide arbiters for the Playoffs and World Series, blending senior, other veteran, and relatively-young umps, and then rotating them so the youngest are guaranteed the opportunities to get experience at the most important spots on the field, but when the stakes are relatively the lowest. And this reserves the most likely to be pressure-filled, intense spots on the field for the games that are most likely to be the most pressure-filled and intense.

Joe Ely at work knows how to do this, but it turns out that Joe Ely the Umpire does this Lean-like process on the baseball field, as well. Here's a lightly abridged version of his note:

The insight on World Series umpire rotation is huge...it all makes sense if you think about it.  Get the most experienced guys progressively behind the plate as the pressure builds.  Game 2 just isn't that tough, relatively speaking.

And a further example, from Little League.

Last Wednesday, I was assigned to work the plate for our District finals for the 11-year old division.  I had three other guys assigned to do bases but the assignor did not tell me who to put where.  So, when I got to the field, an hour ahead of time, I made my decision and put the least experienced guy at first base and two equally veteran guys at 2nd and 3rd.

When the guy working 2nd, a good friend of mine for many years now, arrived and learned who was working first, he pulled me aside and said "Joe, do you know what this guy will do at 1st??  That's crazy!"  I explained I felt it was key he get some good experience and we had to do this sometime to develop new umpires.  We stayed with the assignments.

Well, the game progressed.  The guy did make one out and out blown call at first, calling an out on an obvious safe situation.  But he got everything else right.  He was in the frying pan on one check swing I had to go to him for but got it right (though not for the right reason).  He also made two less-than perfect movements on balls to the outfield.  No one noticed but the other three of us, though and we discussed it during and after the game.  And his one blown call ended up not being a factor.

Following the game, he thanked us for the assignment, having learned a lot. He'll do better next time.   Both coaches thanked us, as a team, for a good game.  It all ended well.

Gotta do this to build a future.  Weber was right.  And it works in a hidden corner of Indiana Little League as well as the bright lights of the World Series.

You have to respect the vitality of Joe Ely's thinking, incorporating with variation his work improvement methods to this avocation. This requires understanding the context and incorporating without a rigid copy process.

But Ely's process -- overwhelmingly harmonic with Deming, is pure baseball, as well. I wonder how much Deming consciously borrowed from the National Pastime.

PS: A few of my own favorite Joe Ely insights, always actionable, insightful and stuff that has hard, measurable value:

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