Measure Measure Measure

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Peter Drucker

This is a famous quote in the six sigma and quality circles that I hang out with. I get invited to some pretty awesome parties.

When I first started working as a process engineer I got to witness an interesting phenomena.

A new boss high up in the process department had been hired, and he was very interested in knowing and improving our daily throughput. Every time he was around he would ask us how the throughput was going. He requested new reports that prominently displayed our daily throughput. When we had a good day on throughput he would congratulate us on our hard work.

However, the truth was before the new boss started we were already doing everything we could to get more throughput.  Since he had started we actually hadn’t changed anything.

As time wore on I expected no improvement in throughput, but I was wrong. The new boss kept asking everyone about throughput and slowly we started to get more throughput. Nothing drastic, but sure enough I could pull up the data and there it was. We were doing 3 or 4 percent better than a several months before. I couldn’t figure out how we had pulled off a little better performance until one day I was out talking to an operator and he told me about how he had switched out one piece of equipment for another one to try to increase throughput. The new equipment gave us a little better throughput in one area, but it ended up causing a bunch of other maintenance issues.

A few months down the road we got a new boss who didn’t care much about throughput. Instead he wanted to know all about availability and maintenance issues. Once again not much change initially but over time as the new boss let everyone know how important availability and maintenance issues were. Slowly everyone made all the small adjustments to improve the availability and maintenance issues and the data showed we were doing a little bit better in availability and maintenance. The funny thing is that the throughput also slowly slipped back to where it used to be.

My story illustrates two important points about measurement.

  1. Measurement makes you aware of where you used to be and where you are now.
  2. You need to measure the correct things. (HINT: throughput and availability were both poor choices in isolation)

Have you ever started measuring or tracking something and quickly found ways to improve? Leave a comment and let me know.

Jeff N. was the winner of last week’s drawing for “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement”. Thank you to everyone who registered.

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