Does Your Process Measurement Work System Produce Meaningful Measures?

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

The Power of Using a Meaningful Process Measurement Work System

How effective is your process measurement work system? My perception of what ‘good’ measurement is changed drastically after learning that the Sanskrit roots of the terms “measure” and “illusion” were the same. As an engineer, I was taught that measures were absolutes. We require measures for work, and we usually believe what they tell us. Peter Block taught me that we tend to measure things that we are uncertain about. If we think we know how something works or performs, we see no need to measure it.

We also tend to measure for the wrong reasons. We measure to trap people, to hold them accountable, or to prove a point. Rarely do we measure to understand systems. This is really the primary reason to measure a process or your performance. We cannot know everything about what makes a system work, but we can use measurement to help us understand systems, and ourselves, better.

DISCOVER MORE: The History of Measurements (External link provided by Ms. Martin’s class – thanks!)

What Does Your Process Measurement Work System Measure?

Process Measurement Work System Weaknesses

There are really only three types of great measures, with all of them being some form of ratio. We use time ratios and cost ratios the most often. Ratios that show how one variable performs against another (i.e. miles per gallon) are perhaps more powerful, but we don’t tend to use this type of ratio often. Could this be because we are not in search of systems understanding as our measurement goal?

Operational definitions and measurement procedures are also key, but we often work without them. Without these definitions, people can measure what they want and make it look like they give you what you want. Even without the intent to deceive (protect oneself), a lack of operational definitions leads to confusion about what one should count. Not using operational definitions can also lead to key data being ignored or ‘crunched’ incorrectly.

Buy my ‘Vital Signs, Scorecards, and Goals – the Power of Meaningful Measurement’ workbook now at Amazon.com

Use Trends to Understand Process Behavior Over Time

Measures mean little when they are not part of a trend line. Measures without trends are only snapshots. One way to learn more about a system is to look at that system’s performance (behavior) over time. The goal is to build theories that we base on what the picture shows us. The graph, or picture, is where we start with systems improvement – it is not the end result that we desire. Similarly, trend analysis means little if you do not perform such analyses with a diverse group of stakeholders and an open mind towards learning.

If we set performance goals that are outside of our current system performance range, we should also know what system changes we expect to help us get there. Strategies that simply ‘ask’ , or even pay, for higher levels of performance may only work for a short amount of time. These strategies may not work over the long term.

Use Your Process Measurement Work System to Understand Process Capability

We should also learn more about what our systems are capable of when we use correct measurement practices. In other words, great trend analysis shows us what type of results we can expect from our systems. If we want a level of performance that is outside the current capability of the system, fundamental changes must be made to reach that higher level of performance.

EXPLORE MORE: The Business Sports Analogy Dilemma

If you are interested in the measurement systems and tools that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com

How Many Measures in a Process Measurement Work System?

Can you believe it? People have actually told me have actually told me that I measure too many things as part of my daily life! From my perspective however, there is a method to my measurement madness. First of all, I feel it is important to trend performance in all key performance areas. Such areas include safety, quality, people, cost, and growth. Secondly, experience has shown me that the best teams improve when they measure enough different things to truly understand each of their key processes.

Through my Baldrige experience and personal successes, I know that the best organizations and teams measure two to three key metrics in each of the four or five key performance areas on a monthly basis. They track and trend additional in-process throughput and waste measures on a daily basis for each key process. The best companies I work with and visit normally review performance trends for 25-30 key measures on at least a monthly basis.

Engage EVERY Work Team Leader in Daily Measure Capture

Tracking this number of numbers may intimidate people. It is not that bad IF each work team leader assumes the responsibility to (1) track 5-20 measures and (2) use a spreadsheet to capture key information each day. This is where the key to sustained improvement lies. The key is to get EACH person in the organization, or at a minimum, each work team leader, to routinely capture (EVERY DAY) their key performance drivers and measures. Without such data, they will struggle to understand process performance.

You can also capture certain types of information in a ‘random sample’ manner. Most measures, however, need to be caught and trended daily, if not more frequently. In doing so, each work team leader will better understand the processes they are responsible for (and paid to improve). They also acquire valuable information to help them identify, prioritize, and justify, future improvements.

LEARN MORE: Process Improvement Strategies

Use Measures to Help Guide Behavior Change

Think about it. The majority of the significant changes that we would like to see involve (1) most of our people and (2) behavior change the lasts on their part. This is especially true in organizations that provide a service. We cannot use machines as easily to control, or at least pace or guide, human behavior.

We want people to change their behavior and we want them to continue to act in the new way. How do we get people to change?

One answer lies in the world of technology. We use entry screens more and more to place orders, track transactions, and build databases. Word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software are used as common tools. To some degree, these tools affect the performance of the people that use them.

Buy my Vital Signs, Scorecards, and Goals measurement workbook at Amazon.com

Use Technology and Measurement Wisely

If a field on the entry screen contains incorrect data, the transaction cannot proceed. If the conveyor belt is sped up slightly, people will have to work faster. When we scan the employee’s ID into the handheld scanner, we link the process to person. These are all examples of fundamental system changes that help shift performance in organizations.

They are also examples of changes that could damage the more unmeasurable and important morale metric if we use them ineffectively. Mechanical system changes often give us the measurable results we want to find, but we often discount the possible behavioral impact of an ‘improvement.’

Look for more examples of systems changes in the near future. They may be affecting you already!

READ MORE: The Challenge of Changing People

Would You Like Some Process Measurement Work System Improvement Help?

Improving Your Process Measurement Work System

For over forty years, I have helped design and install process measurement work systems in many different companies – both small and large. Such experience helps me discover value added, simple ways to set up systems to measure process effectiveness. For example, I can help you create KPI scorecards that align process performance and really tell a company’s improvement story. An effective measurement work system helps each process owner better understand what makes the process they own tick. Using measures as a hammer is the primary power restrictor for this power system. My measurement tools help you both eliminate that barrier and move forward more rapidly towards higher levels of performance.

If you have interest in the process measurement work systems and tools that I offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com. Better yet, work with me further to help you improve your measurement work system through my virtual and interactive measurement work system development workshop.

DISCOVER MORE: How Great are Your Work Systems?

Keep improving! — Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

www.greatsystems.com            kevin@greatsystems.com

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