The technical definition of Catchball is “A lean system to greatly improve bi-directional feedback and ownership – especially for complex decision making and policy deployment.” While that is a nice description of what catchball is, it doesn’t really get into why it is so important, how it can benefit a team or even how it should be implemented. Understanding these things about the catchball process can help companies better implement it into their decision making process.
Why is Catchball Essential for Lean Success
Like many lean strategies, the catchball process is essential because it puts some guidelines around a common practice. It is something that can be taught and repeated across divisions and even companies. When looking at new ideas or plans for a company, this process can help get a better understanding of the practicality of the plans and decide whether or not they will be a success. This is done by allowing people from multiple areas to contribute to the analysis of the plan or idea.
Without a catchball process most decisions are made by a few individuals in management. Even if they are doing a great job, they can’t have the experience and understanding of the processes that are included when people from both management and the front lines are brought together. Using the catchball process, it is possible to organize and share information from a diverse set of groups.
The catchball process can be used to help gather information and encourage discussion about any decision that needs to be made. While most companies don’t use this process for every little decision, it is an important tool for larger or more impactful choices. For these higher level planning meetings, the catchball process can streamline the meeting while still ensuring that everyone who should be providing input will have the opportunity to do so. It also fosters the discussions in a productive way because it allows individuals to get their whole point out before others begin commenting on it.
Some specific times when the catchball process should be used are during value stream mapping, supply chain management and Hoshin strategic planning. Of course, there are many other situations which this process can be used for, and each company can set their own standards for when and how the process should be used.
What is required for Successful Catchball
While the concept of a catchball meeting is quite simple, it isn’t often as easy in practice. This is because of the fact that some people will be tempted to jump in and share their thoughts out of turn. On the other hand, those who aren’t naturally as outgoing may attempt to sit back and listen without contributing their thoughts on the topic. A properly run catchball meeting will force a better balance, which encourages everyone to participate, but only when it is their turn.
This is a far more effective and productive way to get the input of everyone in the room. Once people participate in a properly managed catchball meeting they can immediately see how beneficial it can be. To avoid problems, however, the leader of the meeting must encourage or enforce proper catchball behavior.