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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lean Lessons From The Stanley Cup Winning Boston Bruins

Many of you know of my enthusiasm for Ice Hockey as a player and a coach.  In the last few weeks hockey fans from all over the world have been captivated by the Stanley Cup Championship Playoff between The Boston Bruins (my team) and The Vancouver Canucks. This is the pinnacle of the hockey season with the winner taking the oldest professional sports trophy in North America.

As I reflect on the accomplishments of another season coming to an end I can't help but think about the valuable lessons that have been demonstrated.  I will present these ten lessons in terms of Lean thinking.

  1. Winning requires a positive attitude.  There are a lot of things out of our control and adversity is part of the challenge but how we react is up to us.  The right attitude can keep you moving forward.  The Bruins never dwelled on what they did wrong but what they needed to do better for the next game. 
Lean requires a willingness to try something new to improve our workplace. Fix what bugs up. Make work easier.

  1. Never give up.  Sports have lots of highs and lows throughout the game.  Perseverance is necessary to turn a bad situation into a good situation. When the Bruins were behind they never gave up and that kept them in the playoffs. 
Lean also needs perseverance to get you through the difficult bumps in the road along the way to improvement.

  1. Use a system.  All professional sports teams use a system.  It is more than set plays but methods in which the team works to beat their opponent. This ensures that everyone executes together.  The Bruins system involved a defense first approach and not looking behind the next shift. 
Systems and processes are at the heart of Lean thinking as they are the key to establishing standard work. This allows us to easily detect abnormalities and make improvements.

  1. Don't change for the sake of changing.  When the Bruins were struggling people were quick to suggest and ask what changes were needed.  Their Coach Claude Julien stayed the course and said don't panic.  It worked for them all year so there is no sense in changing everything when you are down.  If he had changed this late in the season it could likely have been worse. 
Changing just to change isn't necessarily productive but change based on real need is warranted. Following a PDCA process ensures you change when you need to.

  1. Practice. Practice. Practice.  All sports teams practice and the Bruins are no exception.  The key to their practices is to focus on game situations.  This high speed sport is much about reading and reacting so you must practice with intensity if you want to play with intensity.
In your organization you may not necessarily call it practice but you certainly experiment.  This experimentation is what prepares us to solve more and more complex problems.

  1. Find a leader.  Coach Julien has taken the Bruins from last place in the Northeast Division to four straight playoff appearances. You also need strong team leaders like that of Captain Zdeno Chara.
Leadership is essential in all organizations but in a Lean organization the leaders play a critical role of developing and empowering the people within the system.

  1. Take time to reflect.  Coach Julien was recently asked if he had taken time to take in the moment of being in the playoffs.  He said if you want to remember the moments you must stop and live in the moment. 
In Lean we call this reflection Hansei.  It is this process that makes learning and improvement possible.  We must take time to reflect on where we have been and how we did it if we want to move past it.

  1. It can take a long time to reach your goal.  The last time the Bruins won the Stanley cup was in 1970 (41 years) and the last time they made it to the final round of the playoffs was 1990 (21 years). Their goal as an organization has been to win the cup and over the last 10 years or so they have been on a mission to get back to the finals.
The Lean journey in pursuit of True North is a quest that also takes a long time with lots of patience and persistence.  Don't lose sight of the goal.

  1. The power of teamwork.  Hockey is not an individual sport it requires every member of the team to play their part to win.  It also requires everyone to be at their best.  Open communication and chemistry are an essential part of teamwork.
We all have roles in our organizations but it is the power of teamwork that makes our endeavors successful.  It takes everyone working together on a common goal to be successful in Lean.

  1. The value of hard work and sacrifice.  The Bruins have undoubtedly worked very hard and made sacrifices along the way to get to where they are.  But this makes winning so much sweeter in the end. 
Lean takes lots of hard work as well but it makes wins you get much more pleasurable.  It is this hard work that creates customer value and makes your organization competitive in the market place.

I hope you can learn from these lessons as I have and find a way to incorporate them in your life and your work. Keep learning.

Congratulations Boston Bruins for winning the Stanley Cup.

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  1. Good lessons, Tim. Where does passion fit into this? Congratulations to you and the Bruins too.


  2. Thanks Chris. You have a good point. You gotta want it.

  3. Great post. I must admit the first thing that came to mind was the Dallas Mavericks. I think the lesson is the same though. Two points that resonate to me are, don't change for the sake of changing and having a positive attitude. The will get you through the rough times.

  4. Those are great points to get you through life. Thanks David.