Jamie Flinchbaugh: How would you measure lean success?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-30-11

I have a new post published on The Lean Edge. See the full article on that site.

The question asked was “what counts as ‘lean success’?

Albert Einstein once said:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

I see most people making mistakes when trying to evaluate success. They try to measure lean success as if it is a program. What’s the easiest way to measure a program? Activity! Yet we should not confuse activity with productivity. Lean programs are measured by means such as the number of people trained or the number of improvement events held, yet these activities do not a lean journey make. They are only inputs. And even as only inputs, quality still matters far more than quantity.

Lean itself is never the goal. Lean is only the vehicle. It’s the means to an end. And the end is the business performance, over the long-term. But using business results to evaluate the lean efforts is a little like using the regular results of the baseball team to evaluate spring training…it’s a little late to do anything about it. Mark Graban did many years ago a study of the lack of connection between the Shingo Prize and stock performance.

An effective lean effort should be delivering future business results. How can we predict the future? The best way is that we have to develop a clear understanding between the drivers of business success. It may even be different for each business, and no matter what, there are far too many variables to try to evaluate all of them. It might be…

How rapidly do we learn as an organization?

Do we have strong problem solving skills?

Are we regularly coaching people?


Do we have alignment and moving in the same direction?

I’m not against measuring the lean journey. Jean Cunningham and Mike Rother both have some strong recommendations on what to be measuring. But it will never give you the whole picture. You will have to evaluate what is not so easy to see. This requires engagement and direct observation. You need to evaluate culture and thinking.

One of the best means is coaching. This has a dual purpose. Not only does it help you create a better future for the organization, but it is also the best way to observe people in their thinking, to understand whether the desired culture is taking root.

In the end, remember that the artifacts of the journey, the activities, are not the same thing as the journey itself. The real journey, the one that leads to lasting success, is below the surface.

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