Mr. Happy Face - Showing the Difference between Push and Pull Systems With a Smile

The Mr. Happy Face lean game is useful for contrasting push and pull systems. Using only paper and a few simple office tools (glue and scissors), the game is perfect for agile training or a lean office kaizen event.

The Game:

Several teams compete against each other by creating four different types of happy faces with pieces of construction paper. Each group must satisfy the customer requirement for faces, without knowing these requirements in advance.

Each happy face uses different shapes for eyes and mouths, pretty much guaranteeing that someone in each group will prepare inventory of these components.

Playing the game in two rounds enables the instructor to teach the difference between push and pull systems.

The first round finds the groups scrambling to make different styles of faces using a traditional batch manufacturing push system. Without defined rolls, the groups figure out their own way to make the faces. At the end of the round, inventory is counted and "money" awarded as follows:

  • Every face they sold = $400
  • Every unsold completed face = -$200
  • Every unsold eye = -$25
  • Every unsold mouth = -$50
  • Every uncompleted face = -$100

In the second round, each team prepares a queue of the different components (eyes, mouths and faces) and only replenishes the queue as parts are taken away to satisfy the customer. This pull system ensures that the teams make only what the customer wants, even without knowing the demand in advance.

The principles of kanban are clearly illustrated, as two of each eye and mouth type are held on the white papers and only replenished when they are used.

This video shows the a group in Round 2 - Pull System

I guess the Happy Face can also refer to the guy giving us a thumbs up at the end of the video! The real Mr. Happy Face??


With no special equipment needed to run this game, it's perfect for quick lean illustrations. You can use it to introduce kanban to your lean kaizen teams. Perhaps teaming it up with the Penny Game would give a great overview of push vs pull and the basics of inventory reduction.

Although simple, a nice illustration of the different faces would be a perfect bonus to use when running the game. I noticed a whiteboard in the video showing the different types, but perhaps a little paperwork will allow the instructor to introduce elements of Standard Work as well.

Overall, an excellent game! I'm always surprised at how easy it can be to introduce lean and kanban concepts. You don't need a fancy kit, just a little ingenuity!

For all the information about this game, including detailed instructions, head over to Tasty Cupcakes, the same website that brought you Making Pamphlets!

(Unfortunately, this game is no longer available at the above link).

See many more games and simulations in my list of Lean Games!


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