Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are they metrics or are they numbers?

In recent discussions about metrics, I've been wondering about the apparent fascination with metrics.

Each metric is a number.  Each is a measure of some activity, some process.  

But what do we do with the metric/number once we have it?

All too often, I see discussions devolving into how the number is derived or where it comes from or what the right unit is.  And I truly wonder if we like the metric or if we like the number. 

A metric is simply an indicator, a gauge of some activity we deem important.  A number, on the other hand, is an arithmetic construct which can be averaged, summed, square-rooted and put into a spreadsheet. 

To fix a metric requires going to see a process to understand what really makes it work.  To fix a number requires analysis, averaging, summing, square-rooting, spreadsheeting. 

Processes are messy.  They usually involve people.  They don't always respond the way we expect.  

Numbers are clean.  They are usually abstract.  They average and sum and square root the way we expect, so long as our spreadsheet formulae are correct. 

Processes deliver product.  Numbers don't.

Is the fascination with numbers merely another example of taking the path of least resistance? 


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lean Behaviors: Trust

We don't talk about trust all that much in the Lean community. 
Perhaps we should a little more.
Why?  Because we ask people to do some rather counter-intuitive things as we try to set up a Lean system.  Like follow standard work even to the point of running out of raw materials.  Why do we do this?  So we can more quickly discover where other pinch points are.  We want to expose waste.  We, who think a lot about Lean and the systems thereof and want to find waste.
But, wait a minute, buster, says our associate.  I've seen this movie before and I know how it ends.  If I work hard and expose a shortage somewhere else, either I get in trouble or my pal who works over there gets in trouble and, either way, it isn't good.  No, I've learned to survive by making a work-around and then keeping the whole system "looking good". 
And she is right.  It makes no sense, based on her experience, to work hard to expose waste.
Unless you and I, leaders in our organizations, act differently as well.  Unless we demonstrate exposing waste gets rewarded, not punished.  Unless we walk the talk ourselves. 
Unless we say thank you. 
Unless we demonstrate respect for her opinion. 
That's trust.  And, without it, all the waste we so nobly hope to find remains hidden.
Keep on learning.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review: Gemba Walks by Jim Womack

Jim Womack has done yet another wonderful service for the Lean Community with his most recent book "Gemba Walks".  I've already greatly benefited from it on a first read.  Why?


Repetition.  Creative, clear, shapeful repetition. 


Jim brings a remarkable clarity to the task of explaining, encouraging and directing lean implementations.  In this book, he pulls together his written record of walks through a multitude of companies over the past ten years.   He published these records in monthly email newsletters during this time, most of which I remembered reading.  This text shuffles the observations into themes.  Womack adds depth, context and linkage with brief paragraphs before each one.   


And the core theme comes through.  Repeatedly. 


Look.  Find the problem.  Work hard to find root cause.  Fix it.  Repeat.  Experiment relentlessly.  


With story after story, Jim explains how this simple pattern works when applied relentlessly.  And how getting bored with repeating this pattern is a plan for mediocrity or worse. 


Jim's relatively recent observation of outdated management systems undermining genuine excellence comes out in two new essays in the collection. 


For a person new to Lean, "Gemba Walks" will quickly teach much.  For those of us in the trenches, there is both encouragement and more than a few good kicks in the pants.  For senior execs trying to understand Lean, this is way better than more Power Point slides.

In many ways, this book may well also serve as an excellent reference.  Jim organized the chapters to align with common sets of problems we see.  One simple read of a chapter will take less than 10 minutes and I found each would trigger 2-5 quality ideas to test.  Soon.  


Simple steps, done repeatedly and consistently, work.  Womack explains this clearly.  Well worth the read.