Efficient Throwing: An Analogy

Lean is a set of principles, a way of thinking, that has been used to great effect in all sorts of industries to reduce waste and improve quality of products and services. In essence, the principles of lean involve identifying what is valued by the customer and eliminating steps and processes that do not contribute to delivering those values. It is a process of continuous improvement that becomes ingrained in the way an organisation operates on a daily basis. Manufacturing industries use Lean to eliminate costly work-in-progress and reduce defects. Government and healthcare industries use Lean to improve response times and reduce overheads. All well and good, but what does this have to do with throwing a disc?

Lean can help us improve our throwing once we realise that we (throwers) are organisations, and our products are passes. As an organisation we have many departments (arms, legs, fingers, vision, hearing, decision making, motor control etc) that must work together in a coherent manner to produce a throw. Our product, a flying disc, has many features that must meet the demands of our customer (the receiver). Once we have released the disc there is nothing more we can do to influence its flight, so we had better make sure that do a good job before it leaves the factory floor.

The first step in applying Lean is to identify what it is that our customers (receivers) value in a flying disc. On the surface, there are the obvious things:
– A pass that leads the receiver
– A pass that is out of reach of defenders
– A pass at a catchable height
– A pass that is not too fast and not too slow

But there is more to a throw than where it ends up. And just like most cell-phone users in 2005 didn’t realise they needed a cell with a 4inch colour touchscreen that played games, checked email, told them their GPS location in relation to the nearest coffee shop, advised them of their acceleration in all six degrees of freedom and made cool lightsaber sounds, most receivers don’t realise that the passes they want to receive actually need to be leaving the thrower:
– with enough spin
– in a direction catering to their movement, the movement of their defender, the movement of the next nearest defender, the sidelines and the wind
– at an angle best suited for the wind and required flight path
– at a release point wide enough and low enough to avoid handblocks and fouls
– promptly enough that none of the above conditions have time to change

These are the things that determine the quality of our product, and developing a throwing process that can deliver those crucial values every time without defects must put these first when we critique our throwing. We must also learn to identify defects in our products when any of the above conditions are not met, and use those defective products to improve our process.

Once the critical values of our passes have been identified, Lean thinking dictates that we strive to remove all aspects of our technique that do not contribute to achieving the ideal result. Naturally, it is difficult for us to realise what the wasteful things are that we do, and seeking assistance and second opinions helps kick-start the journey of continuous improvement. Common sources of waste include:
– Using an ineffective grip that does not efficiently transfer power to the disc
– Unnecessary waggles, flailing and flourishes in our throwing action that take time and introduce uncertainty
– Over exaggerated throwing actions that take longer than necessary and involve more movements than necessary to achieve the required throw
– Faking without purpose or intent

Focusing on reducing waste in our technique should result in passes with improved quality and consistency. Lean principles demand continuous improvement, and so we must strive to critique and innovate on our products at every opportunity. There is no limit to this process. Even when we have pinpoint lefty backhands and full field hammers, there is always that inside-out thumber to a receiver being face-marked by a midget…

Tim Germann (Who’s Who & Magon #24)