Measure Then Act For Productivity

What you can measure, you can control. –Process control axiom

What if you have a health problem. Serious risk is involved. You are given something to check daily. The number reports your status. You now know if you are on track or deviating.

Let’s take another example–from process control. Say you want to control a boiler in a chemical plant. That’s pretty complex. Maybe we’ll consider your air conditioning system in your house (it’s projected to be in the 90s F in Ohio the next few days, air conditioning is on our minds). It’s the same basic principle, just the mathematics are different.

You have a Setpoint–the temperature that you want inside your house. There is a Process Variable–the actual temperature. Your thermostat holds the set point and compares it frequently to the actual temperature. When the temperature (PV) is greater than the setpoint (SP), then the control in the thermostat turns on the air conditioning unit.

So, what do we have here? We know our ideal. We measure what is real. And here is the crucial part–we act to get the real back to the ideal.

We have a target number. We measure the real number. We act to make the changes in the system to get the real back to the ideal number.

The key is that we have to pick an action that we can also measure that will get us back to the ideal. Let’s say we have a blood sugar problem. We measure daily. We say, oops, high again. But maybe we decide to act on something we can measure. Say carbs. We know carbs affect blood sugar, so therefore we need to control our intake of carbs.

So, we decide to count carbs. We have a small note pad and write every time we eat a carb-laden food. We review daily. We have a scoreboard (like at a basketball game). We want to win, so we make it a “game” to reduce that daily number. This is something we can act on. That’s better than just the sugar number that tells us we did something bad yesterday.

Apply to personal life; apply to business and volunteer work.

A man was appointed CEO of a huge manufacturing company. The financial results were dismal. He laid out his plan of improvement to the board. We are going to become the safest place to work, he said. They said (in effect), Huh? Where is the financial target? What about financial acts like cutting jobs?

So  Paul O’Neil set about transforming the culture at Alcoa.

  • Goals and training were sent out
  • Managers were empowered to report all serious incidents without recrimination immediately
  • People in manufacturing or elsewhere were empowered to not only take measures to be safe but also make suggestions and report potential problems.

Those of us in production and manufacturing know a safe plant becomes a productive plant. Not to mention the ethics of providing jobs where it is likely the worker will return home to the family every night in one piece.

He found something he could easily define and measure and act on. The company culture changed and financial results showed improvement.

It’s easy to sit, do nothing, and complain. Real improvement in our lives and our work come from observing, measuring, and acting.

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