Lean letter game

We believe that words are the foundation for a good communication"


Welcome to the lean letter company.

In this virtual company, words have to be created by combing letters. 

A planner receives the orders from the customer and distributes the work over the different workstations in the company. Each workstation consists of two people and can produce letters by transmitting code from a receiver to a transceiver.

The lean letter code is derived from the well-known international Morse code. The letters have to be made in sequence just like when you would write the words by hand.

A logistic worker brings the partial words from one workstation to another until the word is finished and brought to the quality department for the final inspection. If the word is inspected and approved the word can be delivered to the customer.

The lean letter company is proudly producing words for many years. Helping people to make good conversations. Lately, demand is increasing and they are struggling to increase their output.  They are counting on you to come up with ideas to improve.


  • access to email program (Outlook, Gmail, …  or alternatively a messaging program)
  • video conference program (like skype, teams, …)
  • camera availability (people should be able to see each other)
  • green and red signal ( green/ red sticky note, green/red paper, green/red marker, ….)


The roles depend on the size of the group.  The game can be played starting from 7 players. The following table gives you an overview. Some roles will be played by the group facilitator. If your group has more than 14 people, you can have two or more production lines. 

7vvvvvv    LOG+PLLOG+PL facilitator
8vvvvvv    vv facilitator
9vvvvvv    vvvfacilitator
10vvvvvvvv  vv facilitator
11vvvvvvvv  vvvfacilitator
12vvvvvvvvvvvv facilitator

The size of a word is equal to the number of workstations

The roles are described in more detail below, please note that this description only applies for the first round. It is logical that the content of roles will change when we have to improve.

planner (PL)

  • Splits words received from the customer  and sends letters to transmitters by mail / messaging program (only transmitters, not to the receivers!) Following rules should be applied:

workstation3 stations:
max number of letters
3 stations:
allowed letters
4 stations:
max number of letters
4 stations:
allowed letters
5 stations:
max number of letters
5 stations:
allowed letters
4  1N-Z1A-M
5    1N-Z

  • If a workstation does not have to generate a letter, a "0" will be sent to the transmitter.
  • The planner sends full word to QA if the function exists by mail / messaging program.


  • Receives letter to transmit from planner.
  • Receives the previous letter from logistics
  • Has to wait for the previous letters from logistics before signaling its letter(s) - the first transmitter does not need to wait.
  • Signal letter(s) to corresponding receiver using the code
  • If a "0" is received, the code for "0" has to be signaled
  • One signal (e.g. green or red sticky note) is shown at the time


  • Receives previous letter(s) from logistics
  • Encodes letter(s) from transmitter
  • Adds encoded letter to previous letter(s)
  • If a "0" is received add no letter. The "0" should not be added to the (partial) word
  • Sends  (partial) word to logistics by mail / messaging program


  • Forwards letter(s) between stations  in sequence, by mail / messaging program; both transmitter and receiver should get the (partial) word
  • If QA role exists, forwards the final word to QA role
  • If QA role does not exist, forward the final word to the customer


  • Receives word from planner QA
  • Checks if the word is correct 
  • Sends the right words to the customer  by mail / messaging program, only the right words should be sent


  • Sends out words according to the time scheme
  • Checks words received from lean letter company
  • And finally, the customer starts complaining when words are not delivered in time, let them know that you are not happy (send a lot of emails to the planner and QA manager)

golden rules

Throughout the game, the receivers should not know which letter they should receive. Words have to be made in sequence everything else can be discussed!


I find that the game works best if you encourage the people to increase in steps.  Hereunder you find some guidelines for the different rounds.

round 1 

target: reference round, establish a baseline for the performance

roles: roles as described above

batches: batches of  3 words 

  • the customer sends out 3 words at one time
  • the planner sends out 3 words at one time
  • the receiver only sends the partial words to logistics if the batch is completed.
  • the quality manager sends out the right words (0-3) which were produced in one batch


  • 3 words per 1:00 minute
  • 10 minutes per round

note: do a dry run of two or three batches to make certain that everyone understands the process.

round 2

target: eliminate the logistics role, and give him a new purpose

rules: planner has to follow the original word splitting rules. One signal (e.g. green or red sticky note) is shown at the time.

batches: batches of  3 words as described in round 1


  • as described in round 1and timing

discussion: general topics that can be discussed: value vs non-added value, 7+1 waste, 5S, SOP, fishbone / 5Why (root cause analysis)

note: the role should be eliminated, not the person. Continuous improvement is not about reducing people. He can assist in other roles. For example, planning if problems have been encountered during the planning. Or he/she can act as an observer in the next round, collect data (e.g. cycle times) and suggest improvements. Other improvements could be to eliminate signaling the "0" , reducing the workload of the planner, rewriting the role of the QA department (not only end inspection)

round 3

target: implement one piece flow / pull

rules: planner has to follow the original word splitting rules. One signal (e.g. green or red sticky note) is shown at the time. 1 word per time


  • 1 word per 20 seconds
  • 10 minutes per round

discussion: general topics that can be discussed: 5 lean principles, VSM, pull/push, one-piece flow, kanban note: do not yet change the unbalance between the workstation, make certain that cycle times are measured to improve in the next step, workstation signal can be optimized

round 4

target: line balancing

rules: only the golden rules apply

  • receivers should not know which letter they should receive
  • words have to be made in sequence
  • everything else can be discussed


  • 1 word per 20 seconds
  • 10 minutes per round

discussion: general topics that can be discussed: theory of constraints (bottleneck), tack time, cycle time, line balancing.


after each round, a score is made based on the following rules

  • 100 per right 3 letter word delivered to the customer
  • 125 per right 4 letter word delivered to the customer
  • 150 per right 5 letter word delivered to the customer
  • -25 per letter that is created, but not delivered
  • -250 per person that is involved in the process (excl. Continous improvement persons)
  • -75 fine per wrong word that is delivered to the customer

general note

I notice that there can be quite some time differences in signaling letters, depending on the type of group, if needed adjust the times/batches/scoring check upfront so that there are not too many delays in sending emails and that the emails are not filtered out by a spam filter.


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