Helping our Friend from Down Under: Part One

Australian Lean ManufacturingHere’s how cool blogging is. A week or so ago I got an email from Petri, a lean practitioner in Finland. His question was so good it inspired this post which stirred up some excellent discussion.

Last night we received another comment to this same post from Gail who is learning about lean in Australia! Gail’s question was also excellent and has inspired me to write this article.

Here is Gail’s comment and question(s). Oh, and in case you don’t know what TAFE stands for (I didn’t) here is an explanation.

Hi Ron

I am new to Lean and work for a public TAFE here in Melbourne, Australia. I am extremely interested in how you measure the success of Lean. I am a project leader in charge of implementing Lean Principles. We commenced our journey early this year and I have been given the task of writing an evaluation strategy and evaluating our success to be delivered to our Executive Team.

I was not sure where to start, thanks for your measures it is a good place to start. Do you have any suggestions on how to present this information effectively (e.g. A3 or Graphs)?

Another question. I am in the process of writing an organizational story about Lean. Any suggestions? It will be used to ‘sell’ the idea to over 1,000 employees.

All the best from Down Under.

Presenting the Information

No matter what type of data you do decide to measure the manner in which it is presented in very important. With this said, there are a plethora of ways you could go about this and a lot of it will depend on the maturity of the organization.

Personally, I am a big fan of line/trend charts. As such, at a minimum, my advice is to ensure the following things are always accounted for when drawing line charts.

  • The trend. Somehow we need to determine whether the overall trend is up, down, or sideways. A simple MS Excel line chart can accomplish this. Also, a simple arrow pointing up or down on the graph is useful so anyone can quickly determine if up is good and down is bad or vice versa.
  • A measure of central tendency. In addition to the trend it’s important to note either the mean or the median on the graph. This simple line down the middle of the data helps add context to the picture.
  • The goal. Finally, at a minimum, the goal or target for this particular performance metric should be noted on the graph.  This helps us determine if we are doing well, not so well, or somewhere in between.

If you only had these three points covered you would be better off than many organizations.

For the Over Achievers

Now, if you really want to blow the doors off of things you can take the next step and put this same data into a control chart which adds control limits to the situation. This provides another level of “context” to the situation.

But be careful… if you do use control charts make sure everyone in the organization understands what they’re looking at. There is nothing more damaging than fancy charts no one understands.

If you’d like to learn more about control charts you may want to check out this series I wrote: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Other Approaches

In addition to trend charts there are a plethora of other techniques that can be used to present data such as balanced scorecards and/or bowling charts (popular with the hoshin kanri crowd).

Now then… I’m interested, as I’m sure Gail is, in how you present key performance metrics within your organization.  And since I estimate this article will be read by more than 2,500 people within 24 hours of me posting it… if just 5% of you respond with a comment or suggestion we should be able to create quite the learning environment.  So please… don’t be shy!

Next Up

Since I only answered one of Gail’s question we’ll save the other part (how to sell lean within the organization) for part two of this mini series.

4 Comments

  1. Steven Miller

    November 19, 2008 - 8:28 am

    We also use Control Charts to monitor key metrics during our daily stand up meetings. This helps us be more proactive to issues. Also, for monthly report we use a home grown version of a Balanced Scorecard. Here we track financial metrics as well as some Human Resource metrics related to employee development. We’ve found that these “soft” metrics are just as important as the financial metrics. I hope this helps.

  2. B.K.

    November 19, 2008 - 3:45 pm

    We tried balanced scorecards and had terrible experience. They totally drove the wrong behavior as people only cared about these few metrics and let others completely go. Case in point on time performance. Since it was on the scorecard all focus was placed on hitting the target. Problem is freight costs went through the roof but we didn’t measure this on the scorecard so no one cared.

  3. Ron Pereira

    November 19, 2008 - 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

    @B.K. – I’ve actually heard similar stories related to balanced scorecards. With this said, I don’t think the scorecard itself was the issue… do you?