Skip to main content

Lean Tools, Training, and Systems


A lean system to greatly improve bidirectional feedback and ownership. Especially 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.

boys playing catch

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:

  1. Confirm the practicality of proposed plans. (and their probability of success)
  2. Actively solicit (and often act upon) feedback and ideas from the "lower" level people
    that are responsible for actually implementing the plans.
  3. Greatly improve wide-spread understanding of what needs to be done, why, and how.
  4. Greatly improve ownership and buy-in from the people responsible for results.
  5. Demonstrate and encourage non-dictatorial leadership skills
    for all levels of executives, managers, supervisors, and team leaders.

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 is especially recommended for value stream mapping, supply chain management, and hoshin strategic planning.

Catchball in Hoshin Planning

Catchball is absolutely essential for Hoshin Kanri Policy Deployment.

1. Prepare for the meeting

X Matrix

Preparation for each catchball meeting might involve:

2. 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 their agreed-upon assignments and Strategic Targets.

3. 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.

4. Begin to create

Begin to create the X Matrix and Project Plans for this level of deployment.

Begin to create suggested Team Charters for the next-more-detailed level of deployment.

Allow time for training, questions, concerns, and discussion.

Strategic Targets

Click image to learn more

5. Allow time to ponder and reflect

Allow time for the team to ponder and reflect.

Allow time for the team to complete any research and analysis needed 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.

Time to reflect

6. Finish documenting plans for this team

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...

7. 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.


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.


Suggested Reading for Catchball

Also see Value Stream Mapping and Strategic Planning





Training and Coaching

Consider Training and Coaching to support your teams to succeed



Schedule a Conference

Schedule a conference
to discuss your challenges
with an experienced lean advisor






150+ Templates
Try Some Own Them All



Kaizen templates

Similar, familiar tools for
Continuous Improvement


Download Free Trial

If your organization has
not yet provided a license,
download your free trial now