“What’s measured improves.” So said famed management consultant and author, Peter Drucker. Assuming we are measuring the right things, how do standard units of measure affect our perceptions of improvement? As a youngish Manufacturing Manager, I lived in a world of standard units: pounds and kilograms, dozens and pecks, feet and inches, years, months and days. The units themselves created expectations. For example, lead-time, was typically expressed in “business days” apparently assuming that weekends represented a void. In fact, for longer lead-time purchased parts, weeks were a more common unit. For engineering projects, Gantt charts were expressed in months. And business performance was tracked by quarters. Each of these units, typically rounded up to the nearest whole number and crystalized by our ERP system, implied a cadence to which we operated. Weekly bucketing of factory orders, which preceded the advent of computers, continued as a unit for factory loading, inadvertently creating hills and valleys in the production schedule. Factory productivity was measured monthly. We operated in an environment of self-inflicted unevenness. Standard Units are Lean Peeve #9.
As my organization began to study Lean, it became apparent that standard units for measuring time were limiting visibility and therefore our improvement. Units of measure were effectively synonymous with frequency of measurement. Daily huddles, for example, included discussion of problems that were already one-day old, but I viewed this response time as significantly better than previous, when huddles occurred only weekly.
Then my company hooked up with TSSC, a division of Toyota that specializes in sharing TPS thinking with committed organizations. One of my first assignments was to visit each product cell hourly to initial a Production Activity Log and immediately address any problems reported by the team lead. I recall the words of my consultant at the time: “Bruce, you’re being very disrespectful of your employees by letting problems fester for hours.” Based upon the amount of daily activity that had previously been reported in our daily huddles, I thought to myself “No big deal,” assuming the hourly follow-up would not be arduous.
That assumption turned out to be very wrong. Problems were occurring from the starting bell to day’s end, and those that were unaddressed, often recurred multiple times during the day: missing parts, broken fixtures, defects, documentation questions. These had been mostly invisible to me at the daily huddles because of brute force heroics and work arounds by the front line. And all of those previously invisible problems were baked into another standard unit we called our fixed lead-time. Fixing these problems in something closer to real-time was exhausting, but also exhilarating. The point is, it wasn’t just “what’s measured.” It was also how often it’s measured that was important. Accelerating the cadence of problem-solving created flow. From there on, I began to measure in hours, minutes and seconds what had previously been measured with a calendar. Time is a continuum, but the standard units that we use to chunk it up have a profound impact on how we measure.
I’ve covered just one standard unit in this Lean Peeve, but there are hundreds! How many can you think of?
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