Only 11 Minutes of Value in an NFL Game?


Saturday's Wall Street Journal had an article (“11 Minutes of Action“) with analysis that said something my wife noticed a long time ago – there's a lot of standing around during an NFL football game (or any football game, for that matter). The WSJ analysis, of course, wasn't done under the mantle of “lean” but I think it illustrates the opportunity for narrow lean thinking to miss the mark in a workplace.

The WSJ analysis wasn't that creative, you could argue they copied a Boston Globe story from last year that did a similar analysis of a Boston Celtics game (“NVA in the NBA – It's “Value Added”-tastic?“). Actually, you could argue (call my lawyers!) that the WSJ ripped off my blog post from almost exactly three years ago (“How Much of Football is VA?”) when my reader Chris wrote:

I use this in my orientation to new employees: How much time is value added in a standard three hour football game? 12 minutes.

You read it here first, three years ago. Just kidding about the lawyers, WSJ.

An NFL game, for the uninitiated, has four quarters of 15 minutes each. The clock doesn't run continuously like the other football (soccer), it stops after certain types of plays (out of bounds, incomplete pass, etc.). So the 60 minutes, with clock stoppages, TV commercials, halftime, etc. can take 3 or 3.5 hours. Of that time, because of calling plays, getting ready between plays, etc. that 60 minutes of game time really only has 11 minutes of action (from the snap of the ball to the time a play is blown dead).

As a football fan, I say “who cares?” Well, OK, I do care that there are a ton of commercials, but three hours for a football game is fine by me. I'm not the type to watch the DirecTV 30-minute condensed versions of a game (potential slogan: “Nothing but Value!” or “Muda-Free Football!”).

So to tie this to lean… who defines “value”? The customer! Is the point of a football game just those 11 minutes? No! What about the time thinking about strategy (especially if you're watching with friends)… or the lame conversations between announcers. What about the shots of cheerleaders? End zone celebrations (if they allowed them!) can be entertaining to watch. Would we really want the game to be shorter? Maybe not, if you enjoy the whole experience of three hours with friends or just three hours on the couch. The “value” in this context is probably more than the 11 minutes, and it depend on the individual fan.

Our friends at Evolving Excellence had a recent post (“Remember the Perspective of Value“) that illustrated the silliness of micro-analyzing the details of a performance of the Nutcracker and the “waste” that was identified in a way that missed the whole point and the whole context of an artistic performance.

A narrow minded view of value might get you, as a Lean person, in trouble at a hospital. I learned, early, from the nurses I was working with that “value” (in their minds and in the eyes of their customers, the patient) is not just direct diagnosis or treatment activity. Beyond taking vital signs and giving injections, there's a human caring element to nursing – the time spent talking to a patient, making them feel comfortable or giving them someone to talk to. That can play a major part in their healing. That's “value.”

That's why we defined “value” as the nurses observed each other's work as any time in the patient room. Overly generous? Maybe, but that approach emphasized we were trying to eliminate waste OUTSIDE of the patient room (based on where supplies and equipment were kept, for example) and not by asking the nurses to rush in and out of the rooms. What might have seemed “efficient” in a very narrow sense might have missed the mark completely for that nursing setting.

So be careful how you define value – not from a narrow technical perspective, but from a holistic, customer perspective.

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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. This is an old analysis. We have slides going back at least 8 years, and I think much longer, using this to help explain value.

    To be value added, an activity has to meet 3 criteria: 1. Something the customer values and is willing to pay for. 2. something changes, and 3. done right the first time. Because of that, any penalty plays would have to come out. Our content says 18 minutes of value add, so perhaps football has gotten worse over the years.

    However, we’ve often had discussions with people about it in classes and debates surface about what is value. Some people value the commercials during the Super Bowl. Others value the discussions that happens throughout the lulls in the game. The point is, sometimes you have to be careful about what you think customers value, and what they actually value. It’s not always the obvious.
    .-= Jamie Flinchbaugh ´s last blog ..H x V x F > R =-.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jamie. You’re right, it’s not always obvious.

    To share another hospital example: Tracking the flow of a tube of blood through a hospital value stream – if the tube of blood is sitting and waiting, or just being carried around on a phlebotomist cart, it’s pretty obvious that is non-value-add time. Other situations are more complex, such as centrifuging the blood — it’s not giving you a test result, but it’s required to do the testing (which you could argue is a weakness in the test equipment, you should have something that can test whole blood). The testing process itself, the one that generates the numbers and data for the MD, is clearly value.

    Football game, not so obvious. Same case for baseball. Is the pitcher looking to first base and throwing over to the runner value? Is just looking the runner back and not throwing value? That could be the most tense part of the game, and important, although it seems like nothing is happening.

    To think of the quote “don’t confuse motion and work,” there are lots of moments in a soccer or hockey game where there’s motion, but nothing important happening.

  3. I think it is bad analysis on two levels. 1. There are probably more than 11 minutes of value to a serious football fan. Some of the discussion from good announcers might constitute value to some fans. I would question if the WSJ’s value – no value judge appreciates the ‘game within a game’ that exists in most sports. 2. Be careful applying lean to things like art and entertainment. We could probably determine that when people look at paintings it only takes a few seconds for the senses to perceive the painting and all the rest of the time they spend looking and pondering is waste.
    In stuff that people do or watch because they like it value doesn’t necessarily correlate with utility.
    I would suggest that the NFL adds significant value in the eyes of their fans or there would be so much money in it and we would have to rethink economic theories to account for people spending their money on things that don’t give them some satisfaction. Whatever satisfaction the NFL fan (or any fan – symphony, art, baseball, Ohio State Buckeyes, whatever) gets and spends money is by definition value in my opinion – whether I perceive it as value myself or not. I would say that the time fans spend indicates that there is value as well.
    .-= Bruce Baker ´s last blog ..News Flash, Lean Is Good – for Fashion =-.

  4. Mark – good point. Value is all in the perception of the customer (or fan in this case). I will admit that if the Buckeyes can’t win the B10 I root for NW. I support all the smart schools: NW, Cal, Stanford, GT, the service academies, etc. Plus I’m a Pat Fitzgerald fan.
    Yes, Ron is a member in good standing of the Buckeye Nation.
    .-= Bruce Baker ´s last blog ..News Flash, Lean Is Good – for Fashion =-.

  5. The biggest lack of flow that bothers me is this:

    1) Field goal
    2) Commercials
    3) Kickoff
    4) Commercials
    5) Action

    That #4 step (commercials) is really bothersome. But hey, they have to make a buck.

  6. It also depends on who you define as the customer. If you consider the networks as the true customer of the NFL broadcast, then the action is the non value-added part of the game. They can’t run ads during the middle of a play.
    In truth, I watch a LOT of football, but I’m not really a customer of the NFL. (I have only attended one game with a friend’s ticket, and have only bought a handful of Bears products over the years.) I am actually their product. The NFL delivers my eyeballs to the advertisers.

  7. Mark, thanks for the shoutout.

    We can debate, to no good end, the value in a football game.

    What we can’t (or shouldn’t) debate is the proportion of value we deliver, daily, in our own organizations. Which was my point in my post.

    Not to mention a nod to my wife…as you did to yours, Mark!

    Go Colts!!
    .-= Joe Ely ´s last blog ..Value Adding on First and Ten =-.

  8. I must say I like calling ALL of the time spent in a patient room as Value Added. As the patient (or relative), you really don’t want to see the nurse rush in take a couple of quick vitals, shove a pill at you, and rush out again… The old saying, “Haste makes waste” comes to mind.

  9. Man, I can’t believe I am so late to the party… I mean with the Rose Bowl Champion Buckeyes being mentioned more than once I have no excuse! Please accept my apology!

    This is actually a great topic to show how value is often difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.

    But, Mark, I need to challenge you… I mean come on… you knocked field goals a few comments up after your team attempted the gutsiest (spell?) fake FG of all time?

    Had they converted that play for a TD I bet you’d love FG’s, no? ;-)
    .-= Ron Pereira ´s last blog ..Going Analog =-.

  10. Jeff, I like how you question who the customer is.

    My degree is in communication and I saw a video where we learned that a TV program is to fill the blank spot between commercials. I went to a symposim where Sam Donaldson told the audiance he is a cookie salesman and had to make the news interesting enough where viewers would tune in and see the commercial for cookies.

    Another thought about who the customer is. If you are a fan of the home-team and the opposing team scores a point, that is not very value added for you!
    .-= Brian Buck ´s last blog ..Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs =-.

  11. Is the customer (for the purpose of determining VA) the party paying you? I think we need to follow the distribution channel. Or better yet apply the 5 whys by asking why is the customer paying you. The network is paying the NFL for content that will attract many viewers of a certain demographic. Why does the network want veiwers? So they can sell ads to their customers. Television, magazines, and internet sites rely on a model that subsidizes the delivery of content to an audience by selling that audience’s attention to advertisers. In each situation the VA is created by the ability to attract the audience. Without the audience the system collapses.

    Sam Donaldson had better think of himself as delivering news and audience wants. The NFL had better deliver an experience the fan wants (and they do this extremely well, to the detriment of delivering pure sport). And the nurse must deliver care that heals the patient which, as Mark said in the OP, includes the holistic elements of patient care.


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