NVA in the NBA — It’s "Value Added"-tastic?


A Garden party – Nowadays, the games are just part of the show

While we're on the topic of basketball (thanks to Jamie's post last Thursday for the NCAA playoffs), I wanted to talk about the NBA. This example might be a bit of a stretch, but this recent Boston Globe article and diagram about the “game experience” at a Boston Celtics game reminded me of a type of Lean process analysis… be sure to scroll down in the diagram.

When mapping a “value stream” in a factory or a hospital, we typically look at the percentage of total elapsed time that is “value added” to the customer or patient. The higher the percentage of value added time, the better typically. And in the Lean philosophy, value is defined by the customer and the customer's needs.

For example, if we're following a tube of blood through the laboratory testing process, much of the “turnaround time” (think “cycle time” or “throughput time” for a manufacturing comparison) is time when nothing occurs — the specimen is sitting and waiting. When we watch a tube of blood from it's collection from the patient until the point when the test result and diagnostic information is available to the physician (start to finish), we map out the times when something value added is happening (centrifugation, if needed, and test), when non value added, but required, work is happening (specimen transport) and when pure waste (storage or waiting) occurs.

We can map this time out visually, often using color-coding of green, yellow, and red to highlight the VA, NVA, and pure waste time. Often, our greatest (and easiest) opportunity for improvement is to reduce the pure waste (the red) instead of doing the value adding work (the green) faster.

The analysis of this Celtics game reminded me of this. If you click on the link and look at the diagram, you can see what might be seen as “value” — the time when the NBA game was actually being played — and the “waste” — the time other things are happening. In the Globe diagram, the “VA” was shown as red and the nva/waste is shown as grey.

Of course, the value of this “game experience” may vary by customer. Some customers (in the traditionalist Red Auerbach mold) might consider the music, the promotions, and the dancers to be “non value added.” Some customers (such as casual fans) might consider that to be just as entertaining as the game (or at least not be bored). The Celtics, like many other pro teams, are trying to replace what would be “waiting” time during timeouts with some sort of “value” or entertainment.

Anyway, I know the analogy isn't perfect, but maybe you can use this example to help illustrate (even if in a strained way) how to observe a process and measure VA and NVA time. I know my wife, who always complains about how baseball and football are a little bit of action surrounded by a lot of waiting and standing around, would agree with the analysis… huddles and play calling = NVA, actual action = VA. The percentage of time for an NFL or college football game is even lower than for a hockey or basketball game.

Do you use similar mapping and time analysis in your factory or hospital processes? Are you surprised to find how low the “value added” time percentage can be?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. But if you managed to eliminate most of the non value added time, the teams wouldn’t be able to collect the advertising revenues needed to pay the exorbitant salary to the NBA players and they would all go bankrupt.

    So from the team business managers and the TV networks point of view, the value added time is the non-playing time.

  2. Well “value” is defined by the customer in the lean approach. The other things might be “required” but they could still fall into the “required waste” category.

    Hospitals are required to spend time filling out paperwork so they can get paid, but that doesn’t make it value added to the patient, that activity.


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