Applying Lean to Non-Traditional Environments – Super Bowl XLIX

The lights go on, the game is set, and it’s a blistering 70 degrees at the stadium in Arizona.  Marshawn Lynch is set to eat his pre-game Skittles, and Katy Perry is about to ride a giant metallic lion and dance with amiable-looking sharks and palm trees.  But what most people won’t notice in the Super Bowl year after year is the careful planning required to set up the halftime show in under six minutes.  And as an industrial engineer, I can’t help but think about the lean principles that go into making it an efficient and flawless operation.

Imagine for a second the logistical nightmare of setting up a 70-yard long electronic stage, corresponding cable systems, pyrotechnic devices, multiple suspension harnesses and, of course, the performers themselves within the tight six minute window.   All of this needs to be done with zero errors, or the production crew runs the risk of botching a musical performance in front of 125 million people.  To give some perspective, it often takes several days for a team to set up a concert of similar magnitude.  Only through careful planning and methodically based approaches can this be done, and that’s where lean comes in.

So what lean tools were used?  Well, the production managers would first need to identify what the value-added activities are in the process, which in the case of the Super Bowl halftime show would be the physical assembly and positioning of the stage, props, electronics and performers.  Anything that doesn’t directly contribute to this should be identified and either eliminated or minimized.  One way to do this would be to create a value-stream map of the entire setup process, starting with the end of the 2nd quarter to the final microphone check.

After that, one way to eliminate non-value added activities would be line balancing, or the coordination of individual tasks to be the same length, to avoid having bottlenecks in the process.  Workers no doubt had several tasks to complete, and any poor utilization results in both increased cost and a longer setup time.  Transportation waste could also be eliminated by properly staging the setup crew at different parts of the stadium to correspond with their working position on the field, and a “pokayoke” (the Japanese word for error-proofing) could be designed into stage pieces so that they only fit together one way, minimizing rework and building in quality from the beginning.

Lean is a powerful methodology for process improvement that most people associate with the manufacturing industry.  But the past 15 years have shown that lean can be applied to any process from hospital operations to airport security, and the Super Bowl halftime show is just one more example – dancing sharks and palm trees included.

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