A Collection of Past Posts About Lean, Basketball, and the Workplace


Since today is the first full day of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, many of you might be checking scores or watching games instead of thinking Lean.

So, here are a few past blog posts that connect basketball to situations in our workplaces.

Standardized, but Not Identical – College Basketballs
NCAA basketballs used by different schools are NOT the same. They are standardized, but not identical. The same idea applies in healthcare settings. “Standardized Work” doesn't mean everybody always does it exactly the same way.

Bad Systems in the News: NBA
After a referee gambling scandal, the NBA blamed an “ineffective system for training and evaluating” them. Whose fault is that? The NBA. Leaders of an organization can't blame “poor training” when they are responsible for setting up and overseeing said training.

The NBA Not Involving Its Employees?
What happened when the NBA didn't get enough input from the players about a new ball? Then-commissioner David Stern admitted he “dropped the ball” and the NBA eventually switched back to the old ball based on player input. 

Do Good Coaches Brush Off Feedback from the Team as Whining?
In 2011, the University of Illinois men's basketball team complained to their coach that the ball being used during an away game felt weird and they were missing most of their shots. The coach told them to shut up and stop complaining, later discovering that a women's ball was being used instead. Do your leaders ever brush off valid complaints as “whining”?

Even though we aren't professional basketball players, can we learn lessons about leadership and improvement from another industry?

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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. Two bonus articles on basketball and Lean concepts:

    From the “Lean Blitz” blog of Chad Walters, a friend and guest-blogger on this site:

    Gregg Popovich on Leadership and Empowerment

    Why our Spurs coach doesn’t try to micromanage competitive people.

    From today’s WSJ:

    NCAA Tournament: Why Won’t College-Basketball Coaches Stay Off the Court?” or click here to search Google for a link if you don’t have WSJ access.

    College coaches routinely violate standardized work by standing outside the designated coaching boxes, but the referees don’t enforce that rule very much.

    I’d say the refs should enforce the rule, otherwise, they’ll be partly the blame the next time a player trips over a coach who has wandered out onto the court, affecting the end of a tournament game.

    To get the right results (and to prevent problems), we have to manage the process properly. Or, how do we get the coaches to WANT to stay in their box? :-)

  2. You can always learn from other industries. You can learn about leadership and improvement from basketball without being a pro basketball player. If you are a spectator of ANY sport, you can see leadership qualities in players that will translate to any other industry.


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