Monday, January 28, 2013

The Name Game aka HLDiTtWaN

How long does it take to write a name?

The Multitasking Name Game is designed to answer this burning question, and show the inefficiencies of multitasking.

the name game
Data-driven name writing!

How many times has someone boasted to you about their heroic multitasking skills? Heck, I tend to think that I'm a superb multitasker, too! In work places these days, juggling multiple projects is the norm and you're respected if you're good at it. And when I say respected, I mean, you get even more stuff dumped on your desk!

But the truth is, multitasking is less efficient. And the Name Game proves it!

In the Name Game, or the "How Long Does it Take to Write a Name" Game, one developer writes down the names of his customers. Just the first name, nothing fancy. The trick is, the writer has to satisfy all customers as soon as possible. These customers need the developer to write their name on a card.

Five customers, one developer (name writer).

You can only write one letter at a time!

Name Game Round One:

  • Starting the timer, the customers tell the developer their names.
  • The developer can only write one letter from each name at a time on a card, then move to the next name.
  • Once a name has been finished, the card goes back to the customer who records how long it took. 
That's it. As you can imagine, it's not the most efficient name writing scenario. Yet, this simple name game is a microcosm for how we run our offices, how we design stuff and how we carry out business. The developer is working on multiple names at once, so every customer is getting a piece of his time, but they all suffer as their individual projects take longer.

Finish one name before moving to the next!

Name Game Round Two:

  • Starting the timer, the developer begins by writing the first customer's name. 
  • Once finished the first name, the developer writes the next name. 
  • Each customer records the time that their name was started and the time that it was finished. 

That's more like it. We are all more comfortable writing entire words, I imagine, so the times will be improved. And this is the big revelation of the name game. Of course each customer will now get their card returned faster, instead of waiting for the writer to work on all the other cards simultaneously.

But the key is that the total cycle for writing all the names will be considerably shorter because there's no switching from task to task!

This is where multitasking fails us. We feel good working on everyone's projects simultaneously, yet no one's project gets completed quickly. By switching from task to task, we burn up a ton of time: losing focus, shuffling papers, opening files, closing files, rearranging our desks. All non-value added work which wastes our valuable time.

I'm sure we can all relate to this in our own work environment. How many programs do you have open right now on your computer?

Click here to get the Multitasking Name Game, or the "How Long Does it Take to Write a Name" Game!

So the question is, is this a lean game? Can we teach lean using the Multitasking Name Game? 

In a manufacturing environment, we are looking for single piece flow. Small batches will reduce inventory and improve flow. This potentially means switching from task to task, as we run multiple products on the same line. The Name Game tells us that switching is inefficient, so what can we do? The challenge is to reduce set up times so we can accomplish this, but we will never get to a zero second set-up time, so we will always have losses.

In software development, the Name Game shines. Since we can consider a task similar to a single product in manufacturing, single piece flow means one task at a time. And the quicker we can complete a task, the quicker we can get it ready for the next step.

What do you think? Is the Name Game only suitable for software and office environments? Does it encourage people to batch, so they don't have to switch tasks? Let's have a discussion in the comments!

Regardless of what you think, I've added this game to my huge list of Lean games!


  1. How about comparing batch processing and one piece flow. First write all A's, then all B's and so on.

    I bet the results would be even worse, but measuring per letter in a batch it would be really fast and thus process must be super efficient..

    1. True, Panu. I think the problem lies in that this game promotes batching if you look at each letter individually. While in Lean we would like to stay away from the "batch" and move towards single piece flow.
      Now if you treat each word as a part, then we're getting closer. Get each single word completed before moving to the next word. I.e. don't do a "batch" of words, by writing one letter of each word at a time.

  2. I think writing one word after another is one-piece-flow and writing one letter after each other is batch.
    In one-piece-flow we say: Take one product (name) and finish it.
    In batch production we say: Make the first step (first letter) for a batch of products (name), then the next.

    1. Hi Florin,
      I was trying to wrap my head around this and I think I just over thought it too much. Your simple explanation has made it crystal clear. It just makes sense.

      We are building names, just like factories build cars.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi Martin, we are going to use the name game in a workshop this month. I translated the hand out in dutch. where can i send the dutch translation to?
    thanks a lot! kind regard christel

    1. That's awesome Christel. I'm sure plenty of people will benefit from a Dutch translation!

      You can send it to me at leansimulation @ gmail dot com.
      I can post it here as an update.

  4. Hi Martin - Thank you very much for sharing the Name Game. We are going to use it in a workshop this week. Since our company is relatively small, all the people know each other's names already. Would it make a better impact to have all the "customers" pick a name different from their own? Or do you have another suggestion for a group where everyone already knows everyone else's name? Thanks again! - Nancy

    1. If everyone knows each other's names already, the game will still work. You will still have to find each card, write the next letter and move on to the next person. It will go a little faster, since there is less mental work (remembering the names and communicating each letter).
      You could try using other names, or names of animals, companies etc.. But now you lose a little bit of the personal touch. It's nice to see your own name written out. I'm not sure, I haven't tried it this way.

    2. OK, thanks!

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