April Fool: A New Way to Learn Lean? Wii Lean!


Note: I edited the post title on April 3 to make it clear this was an April Fool's Joke. Comments posted by readers on 4/1 and 4/2 may have been “fooled” – thanks for taking the joke in good spirits. — Mark

I have a really interesting discovery to share with you today… a friend and blog reader from Japan sent me some information on a potentially revolutionary way for people to learn and practice Lean methods and management principles – their Nintendo Wii!

I love playing games (Wii Tennis) and exercising (EA Active) with my Wii, but I have mixed feelings about teaching Lean through a video game, especially in the way this is executed (see the front cover image, at left)

The game, simply called “Wii Lean,” has apparently been out on the Japanese market for a few months and the game designers are getting ready to release it soon in the U.S.

I haven't played the game, but I have some screen captures that my friend sent and some descriptions of the game. In this post, I'm commenting without the benefit of playing the game, so look for a more detailed review in the future once I get a chance to try it out.

Wii Lean appears to be patterned loosely after a game like Wii Sports – a number of games all included in a single package.

The description on the back of the box reads as follows (in a badly translated video game English that we used to see in video games – example – back in the era when NUMMI was just getting started). Ironically, today is the day the last vehicle just rolled off the line at NUMMI. Sad.

Looking for a fun, new way to learn and practice Lean? Now your Wii is the ultimate digital Lean Sensei! Bow to Wii Sensei! Take a Wii Gemba Walk (in factory or hospital mode). Fun! Demonstrate your commitment to 5S! Can you win the battle for sustain? Use your Wiimote to pull the Andon Cord. No defects FAIL! Stand in the Wii Ohno Circle (Balance Board optional) in a variety of historical settings! All your waste are belong to us! Learning SMED? Wii helps you practice changeovers. Battle it out with your local “concrete head” in Wii Lean Boxing. All of these fun games and more are part of the Wii Lean Experience. It's not a game, it's a journey!

Ha, the game is a “journey.” I'll comment on the individual games, below. You can click on any image for a larger version, if you like.

Wii 5S

The screenshot seems reminiscent of different images you may have seen on the other blogs about Lean… it reminds me of the Japanese company president showing his dedication to 5S by polishing a floor on his hands and knees. I'm sure that plays differently in Japan, but this isn't the sort of game that's going to get American executives (in factories or hospitals) excited about Lean. American executives are resistant to even “walk the gemba” or participate in a “kaizen event,” so they're not likely to ever get on the floor and clean. That's not our culture.

Plus, it doesn't seem like a very fun game. Cleaning a floor for fun? No thanks.

Wii Andon Cord

Wii Lean Andon Cord Game

It's a well-known Lean principle that employees are empowered (required, even) to pull the andon cord whenever they have a problem or when they see a defect. This ensures that the supervisor can immediately respond, stopping the line (if need be) to investigate, find, and hopefully solve the root cause of the problem before more defects are produced.

It appears that, as the player, you watch product coming down the line and you use the “Wiimote” controller to reach up and pull the virtual andon cord when you see a defect. Better keep your eyes peeled, since 100% inspection is never 100% effective. At least you might get some exercise if you start in the first round where the Wii Lean factory's quality is still poor and defects are common. Lots of cord pulling — if you don't get yelled at (which shouldn't happen in a lean environment).


Wii Lean TPM Game Screenshot

For the life of me, I don't understand how you make a game out the Lean practice that's sometimes called “Quick Changeover.” Somehow, you practice die changes and get to make improvements to how changeovers are done, working toward a single (digit) minute exchange of dies (“SMED“).

Wii Gemba Walk

Now this one almost looks like fun. Modeled after Wii fitness games where you walk or run (no joke!), this game appears to do that in the context of a Gemba Walk (shown here with the game in hospital mode – it's nice to see the game makers recognize that Lean is spreading in healthcare!). I wonder what kinds of virtual coaching you get to do as the gemba-walking leader? Interesting!

Wii Ohno Circle

Now this one cracks me up for a number of reasons. The “Ohno Circle” is a famous creation of Taiichi Ohno, one of the founders of the Toyota Production System. Ohno would make a young engineer or new manager stand in a chalk circle that Ohno had drawn on the floor, forcing them to stand and observe work and the process for a substantial period of time, helping them see the reality of the current state and teaching them to identify waste.

I love the integration of the optional Wii Balance Board. I guess maybe it weighs you the way Wii Fit does, so you're monitoring your own weight (your “leanness”) while you play. It's hard to see how it's fun to just stand on the Balance Board!

Oh, and as you see in the screenshot, you can play the Ohno Circle in a number of historical settings, including recreations of Charlie Chaplain's “Modern Times” factory and the Lucy and Ethel chocolate factory. I wish they had included the option to have an Ohno circle in Bruce Hamilton's “Toast Kaizen” kitchen! Now that would be fun.

Wii Concrete Head Boxing

Now the one I really take issue with is the idea of a Wii Boxing-style game where you virtually duke it out with a “concrete head” who is screaming at you and resisting Lean. As I've always said, we shouldn't call people names and we certainly shouldn't encourage workplace violence! For those not familiar with the term, here is a blog post where Mike Wroblewski talks about being called a concrete head by Japanese sensei. Again, I think that's not our culture in the U.S.

When people resist Lean, it means that we aren't engaging them or that we're not solving problems that matter – we have to ask “why?” – why aren't they engaged? What's the root cause of their resistance? What can leaders do? We don't just beat on them!! This game seems to come from an outdated era, where Lean Sensei could scream and insult you with impunity. Shame on the game makers, this sets a really bad example.

It's sad that they would include this in Wii Lean in this context (although regular Wii Boxing is a lot of fun!).


I'm really curious to play the game . I can't imagine this being a big seller in the U.S., compared to Japan where it's apparently done quite well (reaching #4 in the “production simulations” game category on Amazon.jp).

JIT Blasters!

Of course, this game is all very derivative, before you give too much credit to the game designers. I remember, back in the 4th grade, playing a computer game that was distributed to Detroit-area elementary schools. I think the game was called “JIT Blasters!” I guess, it was my earliest introduction to what we'd now call Lean. Ah, the good ole Apple II.

I think the game must have been distributed by the UAW, or maybe it was created by a GM manager who didn't believe in the new NUMMI approach. I could only find one picture of the game online, apparently this shows a newly “empowered” worker being screamed at by a foreman (with a mullet??) for pulling the andon cord. At least we've come a long ways since those times – in both computer graphics and management mindsets.

What do you think? Would you play this game? Would run out and buy a Wii just to learn Lean? Would you be able to use this in your workplace (minus the boxing game)? Oh, I almost forgot – here is the link to the Wii Lean pre-order page at Amazon. I've already ordered it!

Below is the full game box image. Again, you can click for a larger view. I love how the back of the box illustrates how you stand on the Ohno Circle Board and how you pull the virtual Andon Cord.

If you want to point people to this page, you can use the URL https://www.leanblog.org/wii. If you are interested in buying products (coffee mugs, etc.) with these game images, click here.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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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 game should be called “Wii Tool Head.” Consider me interested when there’s a game that encourages you to THINK differently.

  2. I played that JIT Blasters game in elementary school. Dearborn Public Schools had all the good traditional automaking manufacturing games: “Speed Up the Line”, “Just Ship It”, and my personal favorite: “Famous Strikes: Battle of the Overpass”

  3. Come on Mark, the Amazon link didn’t work right. I can’t find the pre-order information anywhere. Did your Japanese friends give you any idea wht the release date would be? I can’t wait to get my copy. This will be the crown jewel in my lean game collection. folded T-shirts, legos and toast aside, this is really coooool.

  4. Yes, Michele – I’ll own up to this being an April Fool’s Joke. The amazon pre-order link was a link to a book about “hacks” and pranks at MIT. I’m an MIT alum, so I thought that was a nice, subtle touch.

  5. Great post Mark. I’m a firm believer that one of the best games for teaching lean is Sokoban. Pure graphics heaven on the old Commodore 64 system!

  6. […] I generally hear my fair share of what I call “factory bashing,” primarily from professionals who have only seen a factory on TV. When people say, “we don’t want this hospital to be some sort of factory,” I am sympathetic that they picture something like the bleak factory that Family Guy’s Peter Griffin works in… Peter Griffin’s job at a toy factory, shown below, looks a lot like a scene out of Charlie Chaplain’s movie Modern Times, as parodied here in my fake “Wii Lean” game last year. […]

  7. Beauty post mate! Even though it was a joke post, you really have me thinking about the Gameification of LEAN Learning and mastery of tool usage…

    Well done


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