The “Perfect” Measure or Metric?

October 17, 2011

I had an “ah-ha” moment while working with a team on developing measures & metrics to monitor their processes in a transactional environment. We talked about the usual things like: balanced scorecard, leading, lagging and real-time measures, quality, cost, delivery, balancing measures, realistic measures and so on. What was interesting to me was that they kept trying to create the “perfect” measure; one that would have no flaws, the one that would automatically tell them the absolute source of the problem.

I watched them discuss with this concept for a little bit because I wanted to see what their thought process was. After careful thinking, I spoke up and mentioned that we may never get to the “perfect” measure for any specific process, but we can get an indication that it is not at standard. I used the analogy of a pilot in a cockpit. In a jet plane there can be hundreds of status indicators, but at any one time the pilot is only monitoring a few. It is when a warning goes off that the pilot focuses on that particular one. So to put it another way, there may not be a “perfect” measure that automatically tells me the root cause of an abnormal situation; instead, if I get a warning about a process and have to investigate.

Measures & metrics can be like that; we may not find the flawless one, but we can find one that will help us understand when something is amiss. This also helps us create better measures & metrics as we learn more about our process. If we can create the impeccable measure then we should do it, but don’t let the fear of not creating it stop you. And don’t get into analysis paralysis.

On a side note, I was coming back from a trip and in the seat next to me was a pilot. When we talked about different airports, we kidded about Lindbergh Field in San Diego, CA; it can have a steep flight approach as it comes over hills right before the runway. The pilot mentioned that when flying an L-1011 that all sorts of warnings go off because of the tight fit. She also mentioned that they can visually see the runway and have it under control. So here’s to a visual workplace that allows us to do our job correctly, safely, on-time (hopefully for airlines) and satisfy the customer!

If you find perfect measures, let me know. – Tony


P.S. Here’s something that may help when trying to understand transactional processes: Metrics-based Process Mapping

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