Wednesday, April 1, 2009

If It's Measurable (and Important) Why Aren't You Measuring It?

If you're not measuring something that's important to you, why not?
I am always amazed when I talk to executives or managers--sometimes at a conference, sometimes when they've hired me to help--and find that they are not measuring the things they claim they care about, at least not in any useful or meaningful way. As an example...a couple of years ago I was talking to a manager who wanted a Six Sigma project chartered around reducing scrap for a cut-off process. He said at the outset, "If I could just do something about scrap. It's KILLING me!" I asked, "How much scrap does the process produce?" He said, "Well...last quarter it was about 23%." End of quarter had been almost 2 months prior to this conversation; I said, "OK...what was it yesterday?" "Don't know...the last number I had was from last quarter. I do know it was up from the quarter before..." I got him to agree to attend our next "Statistical Thinking for Leaders" course, and we worked out a plan to start collecting his data differently (and at a useful frequency), so we could learn enough about his scrap to make it worth chartering a project. A colleague of mine, Charles Liedtke, put it this way..."Quarterly numbers? Would you manage your checkbook that way? Using one balance per quarter?" To my scrap manager's credit, at least he was measuring something. I have seen many managers attempt to charter projects without having any data (or any way to get the data). Even given Deming's admonition that the most important numbers are unknown and unknowable, there are measurements that ARE important...if you're not measuring it, and measuring it daily, and tracking it in some useful fashion like a control chart, then why not?