Why Playbooks Are A MUST For Successful Continuous Improvement


If you’ve ever been on a football team, watched a television analysis of National Football League (NFL) plays, or played any of the John Madden video football games, you’ve probably seen examples of the use of a playbook to help a team drive themselves toward victory. Coaches select plays for the playbook to align with a winning strategy. Players follow the playbook, mentally drilling their roles over and over until they are comfortable and confident in their roles  under varied circumstances.

Being successful in a football game is a bit like driving a successful continuous improvement (CI) model. Executing running and passing plays and driving the ball down the field can lead to scoring and winning the game. Outside of sports, following the playbook to deliver milestones on a strategic path can help a team win by achieving organizational goals.  

Marketers, businesses, hospitals and many other groups set stock in the value of their playbooks to guide implementation of projects and processes and drive toward operational excellence (OpEx). Using a playbook approach contributes to a successful CI model in numerous ways.


A Playbook Translates Vision and Strategy to Tactics

A playbook defines what needs to be done to win the game, breaking the team’s strategy down into actionable plays and defining roles and responsibilities to be successful.

Moving from a football team to other organizations is similar. The playbook helps the team visualize targets, understand the continuous improvement model, and know what is needed to achieve goals and be successful. The major steps of the workflow are defined and the specific activities in those areas are outlined. 


A Playbook Looks at Gap Closures

A part of the playbook definition includes an assessment of capabilities versus needs. This looks at whether the organization has the leadership, guiding concepts, tools, resources and training needed to execute each section of the playbook. Thinking about this from a CI model perspective, the playbook aligns with the “Plan” step of the PDCA Cycle (Plan➔Do➔Check➔Act).

The playbook also defines the areas where performance will be measured and the metrics that will be used. The team uses these metrics to determine baseline, set goals, and define the plays or actions needed to achieve milestones.


The Playbook Communicates to Team Members

In the area of organizational continuous improvement, the playbook articulates the critical elements for success. Relevant references are pulled together as background. Self-assessment is included. Because the playbook clearly defines work and concepts, it becomes an important tool for communicating requirements to the whole organization. This, in itself, is a training tool, with the assessments helping participants understand what they don’t know so that they can build their knowledge and move into improvement efforts.


Playbooks Drive Best Practices

Playbooks are a form of standardized work. Using benchmarking across many teams doing similar types of work, playbooks are created with the best methods for achieving desired results. A team member can use the playbook of proven methods as a resource to follow a step-by-step process for continuous improvement in a given area.


Playbooks Clarify Roles and Integrate Team Efforts

The players who need to be engaged in delivering the strategy are identified within the organizational playbook. This involves not only the team directly doing the operations, but also all the cross-functional stakeholders and players who contribute to delivering outcomes. Defining roles and responsibilities helps assure critical actions won’t be overlooked. It also lays a framework for the team norms that ensure alignment and integration.


How Can You Create a Useful Playbook?

Interestingly, football playbooks are not one-off inventions for each team. If you had the ability to view all these highly valued guides across different football teams, you’d see that they share a systematic approach and have a high level of commonality in specific areas of competence.

The playbooks for two healthcare organizations will look quite similar, with customization for specific needs. Marketers may use a playbook over and over for product launches, tweaking elements of the playbook as needed for specific new needs. It makes sense to build on good work that has already been proven.

The best football playbooks have evolved from many years of coaching experience, learning what works and doesn’t work on the football field, and putting all that knowledge together for the win. EON has taken a similar approach, integrating best practices in multiple applications areas to create starting playbooks that leaders can use with teams across many types of organizations. Contact EON to discuss ready-made or custom playbooks for your needs.



About the author

Nancy Bach

Nancy Bach has spent more than 20 years in the industry as a quality and operational excellence practitioner and manager. In private consulting, she creates and delivers a Lean Certification course, provides Green Belt training and works with multi-functional organizations to develop strategy and implement process improvement.