The Lean Cards Gamification - An easy way to teach Lean Concepts

On November 20th 2012, we carried out one of the largest lean gamification in the world. In total we had 630 attendees and 35 support staff. The game helped us deeply understand the concepts of Lean Construction and enabled us to grow in our experience, thinking, and behaviour with respect to the Lean philosophy.


Five months earlier, we invited Dr. Luis Fernando Alarcon, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, to hold a workshop on Lean Construction. When he entered the classroom, he brought along a plastic tupperware. We were shocked to find out what was inside of it. He was carrying the materials that would be required for a gamification designed to teach Lean principles and concepts. Within the tupperware, there were only paper, stickers and clips. The average cost of the supplies was no more than US $ 0.50 per student. It was with these simple supplies that our students would understand and realize key aspects of the Lean philosophy. Moreover, all three rounds of the activity and the result discussion took less than one hour, which made the process easy to replicate. Since August 2012, we have incorporated this gamification, with a small modification, in both undergrad and postgrad courses of our University (Pontifical Catholic University of Peru). In the original activity, you would draw a star in one of the stickers. However, in the modified game, we would write the word PUCP, a letter in each sticker.

How does it works?

One of the goals of this gamification is to teach students the concept of one piece flow. The game includes six stations with six participants for each team. In a class of 30, we would typically have 5 groups. The game is played in three rounds (phases) of six minutes each. At the end of each round, the students would record their results and the professor would type this information into an Excel sheet.

Figure 1: Product, flow and processes

  • Station 1: Performs the design for the installation of each component.
  • Station 2: Responsible for setting up two red rectangles (or another color assigned).
  • Station 3: Responsible for setting up two green rectangles (or another color assigned).
  • Station 4: Responsible for setting up the circle.
  • Station 5: Responsible for writing the name PUCP.
  • Station 6: Responsible for examining (QC) the batch to ensure product conformity.

Phase 1: Products with batches of 5 cards

Job positions are in the same sequence as work flows. Materials are located in each work station. The complete batches of 5 cards are placed in the standby space for the next station. Quality control (QC) problems are only detected by the inspector in Station 6 - No Feedback and no talking is allowed.

Phase 2: One piece flow with pull mechanism

Only one assembly is allowed in the queue space between stations. The assembly may only be placed in the queue when the space is empty (Pull mechanism). Workers may talk about QC problems – Some thinking and talking is allowed. Workers carry out only the task assigned in the station. Workers can’t solve major QC problems.

Phase 3: One piece flow with pull mechanism and balanced workload

The workload may be sequenced again and/or balanced by the team. Workers may carry out any step during the production process. QC problems may be solved by any worker – Solve it when you find it approach, and no talking restrictions.

Performance indicators

For this game, we keep several key performance indicators:

  1. Production: The number of good products produced in 6 minutes
  2. Cycle time: The time it takes for the first correct product to get to the end of the system
  3. Rework: The number of products with configuration or assembly defects
  4. Inventory of work in progress (WIP): Number of cards being processed at the end of the 6-minute phase

Techniques used to improve efficiency

The results from the three rounds show a significant improvement in all of our key performance metrics (Table 1). In order to achieve these results, we used the following techniques:

  • Leave the WIP in between the queues via a pull instead of push system
  • Minimize the size of the batches to reduce the duration of the cycle.
  • Make everyone responsible for the quality of the product.
  • Fix defects right away instead of waiting until the end of the line.
  • Balance the workload in connected job positions.

Table 1: Average Results of Simulation1

Figure 2: The First Peruvian Lean Construction Congress (Photo by Revista Costos - Peru)

Based on all the evidence we had gathered, we suggested this activity for the big day of conference. I led the lecture, with the support of Eduardo Rosas. To support the large group activity, we set up a table with three laptops where all the data were typed simultaneously.

The results obtained were similar to those shown in Table 1. The gamification was so successful, that even now, it is used as an integral part of teaching the Lean Construction philosophy. Through the game, we realize that all the work that we perform in construction is part of a production system, and that there are several very simple techniques that can drastically improve the performance of the system.


1. Brioso, X. (2015). Teaching Lean Construction: Pontifical Catholic University of Peru Training Course in Lean Project & Construction Management. Procedia Engineering, 123 (2015) 85 – 93.

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