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Lean Measurement

It’s all in how you measure it…

Forbes magazine recently released its 2009 ‘best colleges’ list. My alma mater, the US Military Academy (West Point) came out on top.

Jeff graduating from West Point

I am pleased with the results, since I can now ‘legally’ claim to have graduated from the best school in the country. Plus, our arch-rivals from Navy came in far below at number 30, so reading the list was doubly nice.

Forbes took an interesting approach in its measurement. It focused on the customer perspective—the student—rather than faculty and reputation as many other lists and rankings do. That’s a very Lean thing to do—looking at how customers perceive value.

My curiosity took over, though, and I looked at how the results were measured. I see two components of the ranking system that probably contributed heavily to West Point’s top ranking.

  1. A large portion of the results is based on student evaluations of instructors on RateMyProfessor.com. West Point has a unique student-teacher relationship. All the instructors are military officers—exactly the people that the school is training the student body to become. It’s hard to imagine that fact not inflating the scores just a little.
  2. Average pay upon graduation is included in the ranking. Keep in mind that every West Point graduate is guaranteed a job upon graduation, at a salary of $34,500-ish. Every single graduate. While there are no large salaries to boost the numbers like a private college might have, there are no goose-eggs averaged in while graduates look for work. In this economic downturn, that likely plays a large role as graduates from other schools struggle to find jobs.

So, the list seems to do a very good job at assessing how well a school serves its own market. I certainly agree with the rankning, but it might be misleading to a student wanting to attend their version of the ‘best’ college in the country. Unless he or she falls into a very specific niche category (aspiring military officer who is willing to have a very regimented college experience and serve 5 years in the Army after graduation), the school is decidedly NOT the best school in the country for them.

The moral? Be careful about how you interpret a Lean measurement. If it is not linked to your goals, it can lead you down the wrong path.


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