The Name Game

How long does it take to write a name?

The Multitasking Name Game is designed to answer this burning question, and show the inefficiencies of multitasking.

the name game
Data-driven name writing!

How many times has someone boasted to you about their heroic multitasking skills?

Heck, I tend to think that I’m a superb multi-tasker, too! In work places these days, juggling multiple projects is the norm and you’re respected if you’re good at it. And when I say respected, I mean, you get even more stuff dumped on your desk!

But the truth is, multitasking is less efficient. And the Name Game proves it!

In the Name Game, or the “How Long Does it Take to Write a Name” Game, one developer writes down the names of his customers. Just the first name, nothing fancy. The trick is, the writer has to satisfy all customers as soon as possible. These customers need the developer to write their name on a card.

Five customers, one developer (name writer).

You can only write one letter at a time!

Name Game Round One:

  • Starting the timer, the customers tell the developer their names.
  • The developer can only write one letter from each name at a time on a card, then move to the next name.
  • Once a name has been finished, the card goes back to the customer who records how long it took. 
That’s it. As you can imagine, it’s not the most efficient name writing scenario. Yet, this simple name game is a microcosm for how we run our offices, how we design stuff and how we carry out business. The developer is working on multiple names at once, so every customer is getting a piece of his time, but they all suffer as their individual projects take longer.
Finish one name before moving to the next!

Name Game Round Two:

  • Starting the timer, the developer begins by writing the first customer’s name. 
  • Once finished the first name, the developer writes the next name. 
  • Each customer records the time that their name was started and the time that it was finished.


Download the full instructions below:
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That’s more like it. We are all more comfortable writing entire words, I imagine, so the times will be improved. And this is the big revelation of the name game. Of course each customer will now get their card returned faster, instead of waiting for the writer to work on all the other cards simultaneously.

But the key is that the total cycle for writing all the names will be considerably shorter because there’s no switching from task to task!

This is where multitasking fails us. We feel good working on everyone’s projects simultaneously, yet no one’s project gets completed quickly. By switching from task to task, we burn up a ton of time: losing focus, shuffling papers, opening files, closing files, rearranging our desks. All non-value added work which wastes our valuable time.

I’m sure we can all relate to this in our own work environment. How many programs do you have open right now on your computer?

Can we teach lean using the Multitasking Name Game? 

In a manufacturing environment, we are looking for single piece flow. Small batches will reduce inventory and improve flow. This potentially means switching from task to task, as we run multiple products on the same line. The Name Game tells us that switching is inefficient, so what can we do? The challenge is to reduce set up times so we can accomplish this, but we will never get to a zero second set-up time, so we will always have losses.

In software development, the Name Game shines. Since we can consider a task similar to a single product in manufacturing, single piece flow means one task at a time. And the quicker we can complete a task, the quicker we can get it ready for the next step.