ID-100312944Catchball is the second phase of the hoshin kanri process (see my previous post for discussion of some of the terms).

Management in Lean has a focus on aligning improvement efforts with priorities; mobilising your whole organisation to produce improvements; embedding and maintaining improvements, and creating a situation in which people feel able to improve their work continuously.

In the last post, on strategic alignment, I described how organisations analyse their situation, identify the areas for work on breakthrough objectives, and take a view on key priorities.

In the catchball phase, these objectives are discussed, refined, and means of achieving them established. In this approach, strategic direction flows from the top of the organisation downwards, while means and measurement flow from the delivery end upwards.

This means that the way of meeting an objective may not be clear when it is identified initially. In the book, ‘Toyota by Toyota‘, there is a description of the Chief Executive of Toyota setting an aim of working out how to build cars for the twenty-first century. A Vice President took the task away, and six months later he and his group returned with a now method – the oobeya, or ‘big room’ method – and half of a car that became the Toyota Prius.

This is a bigger scale than I can envisage in most health and social care organisations, but the point is that the method of meeting the objective often develops from the people who do the job.

In the first phase of catchball, the strategic priorities for the year are discussed with at least the management layer below (in some organisations this goes wider still). The objectives are discussed, refined and agreed. This second layer then identifies the means of meeting the objectives. There is a cascade here – the means at one layer becomes the objectives of the next layer of the workforce.

For example, the senior leadership may decide, in a health care setting, that improving patient satisfaction is a key priority (an objective) and that reducing the wait for out-patient appointments would be the single biggest step towards that (the means).

This means- reducing waiting times – then becomes the objective for the next layer of management. They analyse it with their staff and may decide, for example, that the means of meeting this is a) to decrease the time taken for the booking process and b) to increase the capacity of the service by reducing waste.

For the next layer of staff, there is then a discussion about the context of the overall aim – why is has been prioritised, and the evidence for its importance – and a debate about the appropriateness of these ways of addressing it. If the ideas for improving it stand up to scrutiny, then these means – decreasing the time for the booking process, and increasing OP capacity – become the objectives for the next group of staff.

It is readily apparent how this then cascades down the organisation, with increasingly practical actions identified to contribute to the overall aim. At the same time, there is a line of sight between the actions and the original aim.

I experienced this process with three teams recently. Members of the senior management team, who had identified key aims and possible ways of meeting them, met with people from three support services. They senior managers explained why they saw these areas as important, and shared the evidence to support the decisions. There was some debate and some push back, but with a few small amendments, there was general agreement that the choices were logical and understandable, and the methods sensible.

The teams then identified how they could contribute to the work, and talked over metrics for this (more on metrics in a later post). They both understood the context and knew where there role contributed to them. It also allowed them to make judgments in the course of their day to day work: how does this request fit with the high level aims? This should make it easier for staff to take decisions on priorities because they understand the organisational context in which priorities have been set.

Building this in to day to day work, and establishing a system for identifying progress is the subject of my next post.

Image courtesy of vectorolie at

4 thoughts on “Catchball

  1. Pingback: Strategic alignment in Lean Implementation | Lean Health Services

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