More Than Metrics

Measure of success concept using ruler

By Steve Kane

I’ve had some conversations recently about what a successful lean journey looks like.  Of course, we talked about key performance indicators and monitoring metrics.  As the saying goes, not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.

Several years ago I was working as an operations manager running a small manufacturing plant along with a leadership team of three supervisors.  We had recently learned about the importance of giving associates more responsibility and a great deal of trust.  This was a turning point in our lean journey.

The leadership team abandoned our command and control approach to management and adopted a teach, coach, mentor and inspire approach to leadership.  The operators on the production floor and in the warehouse were suddenly responsible for all operational decisions.  We leaders no longer made these decisions.  Instead, we worked side by side with the operators to help them through their decision making process.  We coached them through the problem solving process.

There were plenty of problems

We experience chaos for about three weeks.  It seemed the team was constantly fighting fires and dealing with conflict.  Two weeks into this abrupt change in how we ran the plant I was really questioning my decision to shift so much responsibility to the associates.

The calm after the storm

A little over a month in, I recall passing one of the supervisors in the hall and asked “does it seem really quiet to you?”  She looked at me like I had just jinxed it.  It was at that moment that we had realized that we hadn’t been on the production floor fighting fires in a while.  There was no conflict, no urgent problems to solve.  Things were running smoothly.

The associates found their rhythm.  They were working in clearly defined teams with absolute focus on the customer.  They were running the operation without input from leadership.  The associate were rising to every challenge with an eagerness to perform.  This was the moment I knew we were beginning to be successful with lean.

Qualitative then quantitative

There was no quantitative analysis to determine success.  The leadership team and I felt it.  The associates felt it.  We all enjoyed coming to work much more than in the past and the metrics showed it.

We didn’t really see improvements in the KPIs right away.  It took several weeks to see quality and delivery improvements.  After several months we say customer satisfaction improvements.  After about a year, we saw financial improvements.  Profits hand increased.

While we focus so much on metrics, let’s not forget that some KPIs can’t be counted.