A lean system to greatly improve bi-directional feedback and ownership -
espcially for complex decision making and policy deployment
Playing catchball ensures that everyone who should give input, does.
And ensures that everyone is committed to doing what everyone agreed to.
"Catchball" is a phrase that we first saw in the book Value Stream Management for the Lean Office, by Don Tapping and Tom Shuker.
To quote from that (highly-recommended) book:
"Catchball is simple. Regardless of who initiates a project (although it's most commonly a manager), that person articulates the purpose, objectives, and other ideas and concerns and then "throws" them to the other stakeholders for feedback, support, and action. In value stream management, the catchball process essentially begins as soon as a manger assembles a core implementation team and identifies an area to improve. Based on the purpose, objectives, and concerns communicated by the manager, the team completes a team charter that defines the project in more detail and then throws it back. Catchball is also used to reach agreement on the future-state map, and kaizen plans."
Why is catchball so essential for lean success?
Because it is a systematized, teachable, repeatable way to:
When to use catchball?
Any time that any of the above is important.
Any time that a higher level planning team is asking others to implement their plans.
Catchball in Hoshin Planning
Catchball is absolutely essential for Hoshin Kanri Policy Deployment.
Each "round" of catchball might involve:
- Prepare for the meeting.
- Introduce the proposed X Matrix plan for the next-higher level(s) - patiently explaining each section to any new-comers to Hoshin Planning, and making it clear that each Action Item on the next-higher X Matrix represents an improvement project - and that each designated team leader is responsible for creating a Team Charter - and will be held accountable to accomplish the agreed-upon assignments.
- Introduce the proposed Team Charter for this team.
- Discuss & clarify the plan - documenting any reservations or improvement suggestions - which will be reviewed by the next-higher-level team, which might then revise their X Matrix based on the feedback. (This mechanism for front-line feedback can be truly revolutionary for organizations accustomed to top-down strategic planning.)
- Begin to create the X Matrix and Project Plans for this level of deployment.
Begin to create Team Charters for the next-more-detailed level of deployment.
Allow time for training, questions, concerns, and discussion.
- Allow time for the team to ponder and reflect.
Allow time for the team to complete any research and analysis needed for them to support a commitment to the proposed targets in the next-higher plan.
Allow time for the team to perhaps play their own rounds of catchball with the next-lower teams.
Allow time for the next-higher team to perhaps adjust their plan based upon feedback.
- Finish completing the X Matrix, Team Charter, and Project Plans for this team, as well as proposed Team Charters for the next-level teams accountable to complete the Action Items on the this-level X Matrix.
And then once catchball has been played all the way down to the Action Teams, it reverses direction,
and there is a round of catchball where each team responds to feedback from each of their chartered Teams, and prepares final changes to propose to the next-higher-level team - ultimately ending the planning cycle with the Hoshin Team reviewing all of the plans prepared by the tactical and operational teams.
Preparation for each catchball meeting might involve:
- Hire a skilled facilitator
- Establish Ground Rules for Working Together
- Use Agenda & Minutes to prepare for & record results of the meeting
- Prepare the room and healthy refreshments
- Distribute copies of the X Matrix and Team Charter
- Use Change Management tools to prepare in advance for the possible concerns of diverse stakeholders
Catchball is simple, but it's not easy
It's not easy because it requires honest listening with sincere respect for the ideas and concerns of the people responsible for results - and responding by sometimes adjusting the plans based on helpful feedback.
Those aren't skills that are taught or valued in most "traditional" management structures.
Catchball is not easy, but it's important
One of the most important skills for any lean leadership team to master.