Tips for Lean Managers

New Metric for Lean Leadership: MTBFTFTBF

By Jon Miller Published on July 8th, 2007

Those of you who are familiar with TPM or other progressive maintenance systems will recognize MTBF. The acronym MTBF refers to the mean time between failures. For products, MTBF is a reliability rating indicating the expected failure rate of a product after a certain number of hours of use. For production equipment the MTBF is a measurement of how often it breaks down or fails. This number should be measured in months and years, because the longer the MTBF the better.
To apply this as a Lean leadership metric, we’ll borrow Good to Great author Jim Collins‘ idea of a leader’s ability to “face the brutal facts” to coin MTBFTFTBF. This beast of an acronym stands for Mean Time Between Failures to Face the Brutal Facts.
There is a tendency of leaders to have great faith in their own ideas and plow ahead without seeking out contrary facts or questioning assumptions. Leaders tend to think they are right, even when they are wrong. This is compounded when the genchi genbutsu (“go see”) habit of going to gemba is missing. Therefore, another way for humble leaders as fallible human beings to hold themselves accountable and lead by example is to measure and improve MTBFTFTBF.
Failure to face the brutal facts is a breakdown in Lean thinking. It is wishful thinking getting in the way of PDCA. It is fear getting in the way of courage. It is staying in the comfort zone getting in the way of challenge and learning.
Like any other breakdown, the leader should conduct a root cause analysis on why they failed to face the brutal facts. Why did they hold onto the delusion? The Pareto chart, Ishikawa diagram (cause and effect analysis) and other problem solving tools are just as effective in identifying root causes for production problems as they are for getting at the roots of the failure to face the brutal facts. Applying countermeasures found using problem solving tools will extend the mean time between failures to face the brutal facts.
It seems that MTBFTFTBF for me is about six months. On reflection, every six months or so there is an unpleasant “a-ha” moment when my failure to face the brutal facts becomes clear, and a generous serving of humble pie is what’s for lunch.
To think of the waste that could have been avoided had I known about this metric, and had been tracking it myself for the past several years… The brutal facts are the tough ones to face, and it’s the leader’s job to face them. It’s not too late, add MTBFTFTBF to your Lean leadership metrics today!

  1. Rob

    July 8, 2007 - 10:50 pm

    MTBF for me is one the least understood and least practiced techniques. Calculations of MTBF assume that a system is restored and returned to service immediately after failure. Sometimes mean time to failure (MTTF) is a more appropriate measure. Minitab has some wonderful tools for calculating both of these.
    Finally, can you change the blog link from 63 buckets: this is dead, to Thanks 🙂

  2. Jon

    July 8, 2007 - 10:59 pm

    Good point Rob. Mean time to repair (MTTR) may also be useful to add. MTTRFTFTBF would also be useful – Mean Time to Repair Failure to Face the Brutal Facts. In other words how long does a leader wallow in denial before getting to rectify the situation?
    The Learn Sigma is fixed.

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