Boat building and the instilling of Lean principles may not seem synonymous, but as the following game demonstrates, the concept can indeed enforce these principles. All you will need is paper and teams of more than two people!

The game helps emphasise and develop core Kanban Principles:

  • evolutionary change
  • sticking with the existing process
  • respecting roles and titles
  • allowing for leadership at all levels.

Each team should be given paper (the exact amount will depend on group numbers) and be asked to make a target number of paper boats within the allocated time. Each team selects members to form a board and every member of the team will have a specific job to perform.

There are four stages. There must be an allocated time for a board meeting and a general meeting during all stages.

These meetings should allow team-members to ask and discuss key questions, such as:

— Are we progressing towards our goal?

— What isn’t working?

— What can be done better? How?

— Do we need to make a plan of action based on feedback?


Each team is given a clear set of instructions and taught how to build the boats. An easy method can be found here:

Kanban Boards should also be built, along with the establishment of WIP (work-in-progress) limits. Board meetings and general meetings should also take place.

Each stage of the workflow is constrained, and new work is ‘pulled’ into the next stage when there’s available capacity within the WIP limits.

Kanban Boards use post-it notes to visualise the workflow, using clear headings such as ‘plan’, ‘do’, ‘check’, and ‘act’.


Teams should hold a board meeting, a general meeting, continue to make the boats, and update the Kanban Board and WIP limits if needed.


Things begin to get a bit more complicated at this stage. An order comes in for 50% boats, 50% hats (a form that the paper boats take before their ‘final’ shape). How does having two work-flows affect the group and what can be done to remedy any problems that appear?


Things get harder still here. After the boats are built, signatures must be acquired from people outside the room. To challenge the teams even more, each outsider is given a persona.

These can be as creative as desired, but they must pose a challenge. One boat-signer could, for example, refuse to sign them until they get a convincing reason. Another might only sign a few at a time or make the team wait awhile before their signature will be granted.


If the goal has not been met, teams should combine their boats in order to reach it. This should help improve inter-team working skills.