Illogical Behavior ≈ Illogical Measurements

Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I behave.  If you measure me illogical way. . . do not complain about illogical behavior.

This past week I got to meet someone who I’d instantly consider a friend of mine.  She works as a continuous improvement engineer for a potato manufacturing company in China.  She was communicating her observations of the behavior of the workers in the plant and how it impacted production.  As I was listening (which I’m still not as good as I’d like to be) I remembered this quote from Eliyahu Goldratt’s book, The Haystack Syndrome.

The behavior she was describing was illogical and while there’s not a direct correlation between illogical behavior and measurements, Goldratt is generally correct that there is a correlation!  I asked her what her mepotatoes fun knife forkmeasurements were and she explained that each shift is currently measured on their output.  Output is defined as the amount of product produced during their shift.

Output and throughput are two different things.  Output is the amount of product regardless of quality.  Throughput is the amount of value of the product to the business as determined by the customer.  Customers tend to care about quality, and so while a shift may have high output if that output is of a lower quality than customer specifications it will not meet throughput requirements.  It is wasted effort.

It’s easy to see how this happens, the measurements are designed to encourage a particular type of behavior, but that behavior doesn’t translate to added value.

One way to expose this is to ask yourself if the work your doing is value added or if the work you’re doing is simply to satisfy a measurement?  If you’r work is value add, great!  Keep going.  If it’s to satisfy a measurement then please, question the assumptions of the measurement.

Notice I said, question the assumptions of the measurement, not the calculations.  Generally, people get the calculations right (with some exceptions), but it’s the assumptions that are really dangerous.  The leadership at my friend’s work had made the assumption that output and throughput were the same thing and that measurements based upon output would suffice to encourage the behavior they wanted.

That assumption appears wrong.  It should be tested and if found false, corrected.

Making and operating on assumptions doesn’t make you a bad leader or a bad person.  We all do it.  There’s just not enough time in our lives to fully research every decision (See Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions).  We have to use good-enough information when we make our choices.  Once a system is established it’s a good idea to review those choices to see which assumptions can be challenged to find greater opportunities to improvement.

Are you ready to challenge your assumptions?