You can’t improve what you don’t measure

Every once in a while you stumble on a real truth in life:

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you give people the tools they need to do the job, they’ll get it done right.

Focus on progress, not perfection.

A lot of companies promise to deliver you value, to give you the best price and quality service…but how do they measure that?  If they do measure that, how do they know that’s a good measure of the thing they are measuring?  Is it valid?


It all starts with the thing, the product or service they are delivering to you, or that you are delivering to someone else.  Let’s call this the output.

One really good measure is HOW MANY OF THE THINGS WE DELIVERED ACTUALLY WORKED like our customer expected?

I once asked a guy why he bought a particular brand of machinery that I was thinking of buying.  He said, simply, “Because they work.”

I felt a little stupid, and then I thought some more about it and it’s really true.  We just want the things we buy to work, when we need them.  If things and services worked when you needed them, if they were effective, 100% of the time, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

There would be little to talk about, except perhaps reducing the cost to deliver the product or service, but people don’t seem to mind spending a little more if they can rely on the product or service they are paying for.

Oh, I digress, let’s get back to measurement.

When the product or service does NOT meet the customer’s requirements, we call that a defect.  Defect is kind of a dirty word in our society.  It’s an abusive term a cruel high-schooler might call a fellow student in the cafeteria after they drop their tray, but defect is really a word we need to use to begin to talk about improvement.

You have to talk about what’s going wrong, if you are to improve your organization.  If the culture is uncomfortable talking about what’s not going right, there is a challenge.

Try to make improvement about the process and not the people.  If it’s about the process we can move from blame to a more open discussion about how to address why something is not working right.

If we measure how often our business process makes a defect, we can begin to characterize our starting point in the improvement journey.

We can also look at how often we have a defective output, if you will, in terms of quality, schedule and cost.

An example of a quality defect might be getting your Grand Slam Breakfast without the bacon.  A cost example would be that the breakfast had to be made a second time because the eggs came out over-easy instead of over medium.  A delivery example would be if the breakfast got there ten minutes late.

You can imagine, in an organization how many thousands or millions of opportunities there are to get it right over the course of a week, a month or a year.


Let’s use a fast food example to move closer to something we can measure, so we can improve it.  Suppose you pull up to your favorite drive-thru for breakfast.  Let’s suppose you’d like your meal within five minutes of the time you place the order.

If it takes the team to get your order to you three minutes, plus or minus a minute, you’re all set.  Not only do they vary in their performance hardly at all, but even when they take longer than average, you are satisfied.

The problem happens when they either take too long, on average, to deliver your meal or the time they take varies too much.  We call this variation the enemy in the quality improvement arena.

If we take the average amount of time it takes as well as the range of time it takes to prepare the meal we have a starting point.  In the next web log we will look at the process behind the numbers to see where there may be opportunities to shorten the process time and/or remove some of this nasty variation.


About Michael R Weekes

With more than 25 years experience in business process improvement, Mike Weekes is known as the couch-potato-turned-marathoner. Mike helps organizations in the NFP, manufacturing, healthcare, government / education domains to save more than $200,000 a year in operational expenses using a simple philosophy: EVERYTHING IS A PROCESS.

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