Measurement Simplicity

Jack Welch said: "Simplicity applies to measurements also. Too often we measure everything and understand nothing." All too often we hear from customers that they are so overwhelmed drawing charts and graphs that they don't have time to analyze and improve anything.

I used to work in the phone company and it collected thousands of measurements, most of which were never used. One hospital using the QI Macros was tracking 300 different measures. 300? What's wrong with this picture?

I'll tell you what…they can't possibly be using all of these measures. Ten or twelve provide half of the information required to run that hospital. Measurements should help you, not hinder you.

Purpose: The purpose of measurement is to guide, forewarn, and inform.

  1. Guidance provides course corrections "in flight" while you're running the business.
  2. Measurement can also forewarn you of potential problems (e.g., trends or instabilities on control charts).
  3. And measurement can help keep customers, suppliers, and leaders informed of your progress.

Are you collecting measurements that aren't really useful for any one of these three purposes? Do you really need them? Is some other measurement used in their place? (20% of the measurements cover 80% of your needs.)

First, start systematically suspending measurements that are questionable. Then, if anyone comes out of the woodwork to complain about missing the information, ask, "How are they using the information? Would some other measurement serve them better? "

Second, if a suspended measurement isn't resurrected in two or three months, kill it.

Third, start looking for the "vital few" measurements of "failure" that everyone relies on to make improvements and informed decisions. In any business these are invariably defects, delay, and cost.

You'll also need measurements of success: profit, ROI, etc.

Here are four basic steps to create your own process measures:

  1. Defining what results are important to you and the business
  2. Mapping the cross-functional process used to deliver these results
  3. Identifying the critical tasks and capabilities required to complete the process successfully.
  4. Designing measures that track those tasks and capabilities.

What are the most common measurement mistakes?

  1. Piles of numbers. Use the balanced scorecard to identify the vital few.
  2. Inaccurate, late or unreliable data. If it isn't collected systematically and automatically in real time, it's often suspect.
  3. Trying to meet a target instead of trying to understand the process.
  4. One size fits all: trying to use too broad or too specific a measurement
  5. Gauge blindness: trusting the measurement even when there is evidence to the contrary (e.g., a sticky gas gauge can leave you stranded.)
  6. Micrometer vs Yardstick: Precisely measuring "unimportant" things without imprecisely measuring the "important" ones.
  7. Punishing the people instead of fixing the process. Use your data to learn something and make things better.

Simplify and streamline your measurement system to keep the important stuff and to abandon the unimportant stuff. You'll be surprised how much unimportant stuff is sucking up time and resources that could be dedicated to improving your business!

Lean Six Sigma Workshops

If you are having trouble focusing on a few key measurements or want to better focus your improvement efforts, you might consider our Lean Six Sigma Workshops.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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