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Runners, Repeaters, Strangers


Can you believe it’s nearly Monday again?  What kind of work week did you guys have last week?


Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in some lovely places and meet some wonderfully interesting & inspirational people (such as Anna Bastek).  Plus, a shetland pony wearing a tartan blanket randomly walked past my living room window on Friday afternoon.  All in all, quite awesome 🙂


But the great thing is that, even if it had been an absolute nightmare of the week, today’s the start of a brand new one.  New territory to be explored and a new canvass just waiting for us to make our impression!  I’m so excited that it’s a little scary, lol.


Anyway, today’s post is a relatively random one, but was something I just had to share following a conversation I overheard last week.


So, the “Conversation”…


Woman 1:  Yeah, so she’s absolutely doing my head in.

Woman 2:  Why?

Woman 1:  Well, I told her about that one customer who wanted the X3000 in black and then suggested that we start stocking it in black.  I mean, we have it in every other colour and they just fly out the shop.  So why not get them in black.  This woman would have bought one if we had.

Woman 2:  Oh right, so what did she say to that?

Woman 1:  She said it was pointless ordering them in!

Woman 2:  No way?

Woman 1:  Yeah, I know!  I come up with the best idea ever and she just turns around like it’s not even a good idea!  We buy those things in for £800 and sell them for £1,500, so imagine what she’s losing!  We’ve got loads in red, silver, white etc.  So why not get them in black too, innit?

Woman 2: No wonder you’re so mad!  What a cow!


Runners, Repeaters, Strangers


So you’re probably now wondering why this post is called Runners, Repeaters & Strangers.  Heck, you’re probably wondering what that conversation has to do with Usain Bolt, episodes of Friends & that man you just sat by on the bus (get it… runners, repeaters & strangers?!  Is it bad that I make myself laugh?).  Bear with me here…


“Runners, repeaters & strangers” is a Lean technique… and is probably one of the most simple – and yet powerful – work tools you can ever have at your disposal.  As a “pure” Lean tool, it’s used for identifying where to concentrate your efforts.  But if you take the principle and stretch it wider, you can use it effectively for evaluation, to inform problem-solving or decision-making, and to help you influence others.  You can also use it to categorise processes, problems and products.


So, thinking of your workplace, runners, repeaters & strangers could be as follows:


  • Runners – are the things you see all the time or processes/actions you use on a daily basis.  Say for example you worked in a call centre, your runners would be the phone calls you take, the dialogue you go through with your customers on the phone, the completion of your call sheets etc.


  • Repeaters – are the things you see regularly, but not all the time.  So, for example, your performance meetings which happen once a month, the process you follow to deal with an unhappy customer, or the form you use to return an item to a supplier.


  • Strangers – are the things you rarely see or see infrequently.  For your boss, it might be the process they follow to sack someone.  If you’re a mechanic, it might be a customer with an imported 1955 Chevy who needs an original front wing.


In Practice


So, how can you use Runners, Repeaters & Strangers to your advantage?


With the conversation above, it seems to me the reason the manager wouldn’t order in the X3000 (whatever one of those might be!) in black was because only one customer had ever requested it in black!  Costing £800 a pop, it’s no wonder she didn’t want to fill her shop with a load of stock that her customers weren’t buying.


The manager had recognised that the X3000 in black was a “stranger”… and made her decision accordingly.   Meanwhile, “woman 1” was making a recommendation that would mean her manager stocked a “stranger” item as though it was a “runner” (i.e. customers regularly requesting the item in black)… which would’ve been a massive & costly mistake!


So, how else can you use Runners, Repeaters & Strangers (RRS)?


Dealing with issues:  Okay, so you’ve run out of forms.  Before you start panicking & sending Brian from stationery to collect some from Head Office on his moped, is it that form you use every day or that one you use once in a blue moon?  Use RRS to help you decide the best response to the issue.


Problem-solving & Solutions:  You’ve got a cracking solution for that problem that’s doing everyone’s head in.  But it’s going to cost £10k and 6 weeks of manpower.  Is the problem affect something you do each day or a lot of customers… or does it affect that one process you use on the last Friday of each November, or customers who turn 84 on the 29th of February next year?  RRS can help you decide what solutions are the most appropriate response to your problem.


Influencing:  You’ve got this fab idea for introducing efficiency into a workplace process.  By introducing this efficiency, the process will be reduced by a whole 5 minutes… but you need to get your boss to agree to take you offline for two days while you sort out the finer details.  Is it a process everyone uses all day every day, or one that someone can vaguely remember Lorraine using once back in 1986?  RRS is the key to power influencing!


I can’t emphasise enough how powerful “Runners, Repeaters & Strangers” can be in your work life. The amount of dramas I’ve niftily side-stepped because of this tool are too many to mention. The amount of time I haven’t wasted because of it, has been significant.


Runners, Repeaters & Strangers really is a little pocket rocket of a technique.


So next time you’re in a pickle, facing a crisis or about to deal with an issue/solution, I challenge you to use RRS and feel the power! You won’t regret it 🙂


3 thoughts to “Runners, Repeaters, Strangers”

  1. Great article, Liz.

    Here’s a case where RRS might not fit, and I’m keen to hear your view on whether this is such an outlier that RRS doesn’t come into play, or whether it’s a perfect fit into that strategy, and I’m just not seeing it.

    The name Lily Robinson doesn’t necessarily mean anything to anyone in the world of business or retail, but back in January 2012, a letter she was said to have written became something of a viral sensation when she told Sainsbury’s that their ‘tiger bread’ looked more like ‘giraffe bread’. Mainstream media carried the story, whilst various versions of the article were liked, shared and retweeted across social channels in a way that made tiger bread a topic of discussion that it would never have been had a three year old not seen fit to get involved.

    I recall a conversation at the time where someone credited Sainsbury’s for listening to their customer – regardless of who and how old they were. My personal – admittedly cynical – belief was that Lily was a character created and promoted brilliantly by Sainsbury’s to give multi-channel attention, and huge ‘Awww’ factor, to something as bland as the renaming of a loaf of bread, and by association, to Sainsbury’s itself – particularly in that post-Xmas lull when people avoid supermarkets.

    If Lily does exist, then RRS may have stomped all over her dreams of giraffe bread as she was possibly the only three year old – heck, possibly the only person of ANY age – to suggest or want the change, and was as such a ‘stranger’. So was their decision to make the change simply a different use of RRS, or are there situations where RRS is kept in the wallet because it’s more valuable to NOT use it?

    1. Thanks Mark 🙂

      You raise a very interesting point! I actually remember the whole Lily & the giraffe bread event… admittedly I was one of the masses who responded with a heart-touched “awww”. While Lily’s opinion was very much a stranger scenario in the RRS model, I thought Sainsbury’s were quite genius in how they used it as a marketing platform.

      Tesco very recently used a stranger scenario in a similar way. I don’t know if you read the Scottish students popcorn story – Tesco St Andrews stopped stocking a certain brand of popcorn due to low sales. Two students penned a witty poem to them expressing sadness at the decision and Tesco responded in kind, including a voucher for good measure. The result… widespread media coverage and marketing heaven.

      While it doesn’t make much business sense to build core processes around stranger scenarios, there can still be a focus on identifying the opportunities to serve (and even delight) the customers who fall into that bracket.

      And I think that’s what Sainsbury & Tesco have done in these examples – they’ve retained a focus on their customer and ended up delighting them. Of course, not every stranger scenario would end up this way… but they still remain fantastic illustrations of what can be achieved when a service provider’s focus remains on the customer; regardless of whether or not they fall into a runner, repeater or stranger scenario.

      To paraphrase the US government: No Customer left behind 🙂


  2. Hello Liz,

    What a brilliant article. Specially because of the Illustration and humor (that guy on the bus – get it). But in trying to understand the concept, everything is based on frequency of use. So for the case of the supermarket (pop corn brand) vs forms that the boss would need to sack someone, the boss is a part of the organisation, so keeping the form remotely would not affect its ability to be reached. While in case of the supermarket, stocking everything by frequency of consumption, at least one packet of popcorn should be there. I mean that’s the lowest number in frequency of consumption.

    RSS is a brilliant tool, which I use regularly in my 5S and Lean projects in India. But in a supermarket I though it would be best to keep all brands as possible arranged as per consumption (provided they wont perish before consumption). The numbers should be maintained as per frequency of consumption. ( I agree sometimes the cost of operations of maintaining products that are sold very little is not worth it, but the WOW factor could build relationships with customers that would offset the cost (the customer that comes in for that one product would buy some runners as well). No Customer left behind 🙂 .

    Arun Sharma.

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