The Language of Metrics: Lean Muppets Series Post 4

Jim BensonExpert, Primers1 Comment

It’s like a really heavy iPhone.

Silly aliens!

In business, we mistake inanimate objects for our customers, our employees, our teams, and everyone else. Our inanimate objects are metrics. Just like the telephone, they are things we make to convey information, but we make a key mistake: we believe that metrics are in some way arbiters of reality.

But just as we are what we eat, we become what we measure.

The aliens here are vice presidents coming down to talk to the workers.

They descend in their ship and approach the area in which their intelligence tells us the workers reside.

In lean parlance, they are going to the gemba.

Now, here’s the really funny bit: the telephone really isn’t the metric. The worker is the worker.

Metrics Make Bad Judgements

Well, it seemed like a good idea in committee.....

These are workers who have been supplying management with meaningless statistics that measure output on a dual axised BRRRRRRRING scale. The longer and louder the BRRRRRRRING the better.

The managers approach the worker who, after getting three consecutive raises for BRRRRINGing like there’s no tomorrow, is on the fast track to becoming an alien.  That worker, after a time, does everything to satisfy the metric – to the point that it becomes the only way he can conceive of doing his job.

Initially, the managers approach the worker and try to discuss things in English, then hunt around for other languages, only to learn that BRRRRING is all anyone can say.

And the scary part is the end, where they are happily BRRRINGing along with the employee, because now it’s the only thing the company can say.

In his 14 Points, Deming said “Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.”  The more we rely on metrics to tell us what happened, the more we distance ourselves from the actual work being done. We lose sight of changes in context and cannot deftly react when necessary. Further, we build games and systems that reward paying attention to the metric and not the success of the company.

People will care about what the system cares about. If your company has reams of reports generated daily or weekly, you are not “managing by the number” you are building a culture of BRRRRRRING.

This is fourth in a series of Lean Muppet posts. For a list of Lean Muppet posts and an explanation of why we did this, look here. -> Lean Muppets Introduction

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Jim BensonThe Language of Metrics: Lean Muppets Series Post 4

One Comment on ““The Language of Metrics: Lean Muppets Series Post 4”

  1. Pingback: The Lean Muppet Series: Introduction | Personal Kanban

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