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Process Metrics

Metrics come in two basic flavors. One option is to measure the results of a process. This confirms that you did the right things and that you are on track. The problem, though, is that results metrics are lagging indicators. The activities that led to these results happened in the past, sometimes significantly long ago.

Another option is to track process metrics. Process metrics track the activities that lead to successful results metrics. These measurements tend to be taken closer to real-time, and they tend to be linked to decisions and actions. In other words, if you identify a problem with a process metric, you can do something to correct the issue immediately rather than having to wait until results are tallied down the road.

Let’s look at how you might measure fitness. You may measure weight. You could track body fat or BMI. You might even choose to look at how effective you are at doing certain things such as the time it takes to run a mile, your hundred yard dash time, how much you can bench press, or your vertical leap.

There is one problem with all of these measures, though, if you are trying to get fit. They all tell you how you did, not how you are doing. It is hard to take immediate, decisive action based on results metrics.

But let’s look at the drivers for one of these results, namely weight. Weight is simply a math problem. Calories in must be less than calories out. That means you can track your caloric consumption on a food log or use some method to monitor your activity level, such as an electronic fitness tracker. You may also find that certain things make you eat more calories. Watching TV and dining out, for example, are both linked to overeating. Sleep also plays a role in weight.

Using process metrics, you can tell in near real time if you are ahead of or behind your calorie balance goal. Or, you can see if your TV time has crept up to a detrimental level. Good fitness process metrics let you make behavioral decisions that lead to weight loss. If you just go by the scale, you might see that you gained 2 pounds in the last week. At this point, it is too late to do anything about it. Process metrics are valuable because you gain information before it is too late.

In the same manner, you can track process metrics for an operation at work that lead to the results you want. For example, if you want to improve productivity (a results metric), you could look at several things. Line stops, late deliveries, daily defects, or a host of other things all erode production. When you exceed a line stop threshold, for example, you could send the engineering team out to the production line to get the problems under control. In this way, process metrics provide you with a much more proactive approach to hitting targets.

  • You need both results and process metrics to be effective in continuous improvement. Be careful of focusing on one or the other.
  • Don’t go overboard on process metrics. They have a cost.
  • Make sure you do something with your process metrics. If your team sees that they are missing on one, and leaders do nothing about it, they will be demoralized. It is disheartening to spend time and effort on something that is not used.

Find a good balance between process metrics and results metrics. You need both. Results metrics confirm that you have chosen the correct process metrics. Process metrics, however, are the real drivers of improvement.

Choose them wisely, though. You need enough to help you make good, timely, impactful decisions. The process metrics have a cost. If you have too many, the burden on team members becomes too large. They spend all their time tracking, and very little time doing. Balance is the key. Find the process metrics that get you the best results. Continuously retire ones that are not closely linked to success, and search for new, better ones. Continuous improvement applies to the continuous improvement process as well.


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