It Irks Me

Most of the time I am very upbeat and optimistic about the progress of Lean in US and European companies. I see passionate leaders and down-to-earth, hardworking people making improvement every day. But there is something that irks me and it’s been irking me for a while. It’s about performance measurements and it’s about waste.

Most companies we work with have performance measurements in their plants and offices. In fact we show them how to set up strategic measurements, value stream measurements, cell measurements, and measurements for support processes. We show them how to link all these together.

Then we show people how to use their measurements to track value stream performance and drive Lean improvement. They do all the right things. They put their visual boards in place. They set up structured meetings with agendas each day at the cells and each week across the whole value stream. I am always pleased with what I see, because I know that a company doing this can stay focused on the business strategy while using simple measurements to drive a powerhouse of improvement.

Now .. here’s the “irks” part.

It is not uncommon when I come back a few weeks later, that all I see happening are short term tactical activities. We know the purpose of Lean performance measurements goes beyond the short term.   Lean performance measurements are aimed at controlling the process and improving the process itself.

Four levels of Knowledge no backSo, why is what I often see so irksome?

Simple:  I know there are four levels of true knowledge. These are data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. If a company focuses only on data and information and does not reach constantly for knowledge and wisdom, then everything they do will be for the short term. They miss the point and miss out on the opportunities Lean lays before them.

Here’s a table that illustrates what I mean

It Irks Me

In my experience, many companies stop at information and spend their time discussing today’s little catastrophes and crises. They can not seem to move beyond the short term.

Lean organizations and Lean people are never content to fiddle with the short term. They are passionately bent on daily improvements that step-by-step create breakthrough and game-changing excellence. Having awesome looking boards or meticulously accurate measurements without the “wisdom” misses the point!

The purpose of gathering performance measurements for value streams is to drive value stream improvement. All measurement review meetings must result in continuous improvements.  A one-off fix of a current problem is NOT continuous improvement because it may well happen again. We have to SOLVE the problem at its root so that it never happens again.


A good way to overcome short-term thinking  is to have your stand-up meeting once a week around the performance measurements board and have a very strict agenda that requires more than fixing immediate issues. For example, the agenda will allow 20% of the time on what has happened this week, and 80% of the time spent on progressing your Lean continuous improvement. The team would review of current CI events,  review the small just-do-it improvements, and discuss what else needs to be improved this week.

These activities are a part of the famous PLAN-DO-CHECK-ACT problem solving cycle. (Here’s a short video on PDCA applied to value stream measurement. )     If we don’t push through to genuine problem solving every time we use our measurements, then we are missing out on the whole purpose for creating the measurements in the first place. In other words, if we only look at data and information and do not drive on to knowledge and wisdom, we are short-changing ourselves and the other people in the company. And……. did I mention this really irks me?

And another thing that irks me is why do they leave the tails on shrimp? You have to pull ’em  off and your fingers get all gloppy and nasty …

This is Brian Maskell, signing off from the Legal Seafood restaurant at Logan Airport.