The Purpose of Metrics

My last blog post centered on KPIs (Key Process Indicators/Key Performance Indicators) with the key take-away being if you don’t like the results you are getting, look farther upstream to identify the inputs that are producing those results (click here if you missed it). This post is designed to help you have a conversation with your people around the importance of metrics: why they exist, what should we be doing with them and why we all must care about them. 


“If you aren’t keeping score, you’re just practicing.”


This is one of my favorite quotes and it is very relevant to this post. As timing sometimes works out, I had a very relevant conversation about this topic with a client just a few weeks ago. The project was in a manufacturing space, and we were putting up a “scoreboard” for the manufacturing processes. As we were working out what should be on the board, who would keep up with it and how it was to be used, one of the operators in the area made an almost “under-the-breath” comment about we are collecting data to get rid of people…fortunately I heard it and asked him about it. 

It’s Not About Getting Rid of People 

He explained to me that “Management (them) wants to keep a scoreboard on the operators (us) so that they can fire people.” I said oh, and quickly called a team meeting with the operators, leads and plant manager. My plan was to hold an impromptu conversation with them about metrics and turn the conversation into a training session. 

Rather than writing out the conversation with quotation marks, I’m just going to go through the main points for the sake of brevity.  

1. Why do we have and use metrics? The short answer is to make sure that we are performing to the customers’ expectations and schedule.  In addition, it helps us watch and understand our process without emotional inputs having so much weight.  We must embrace the use of data to understand what is working, what is not working and where the biggest opportunities exist.

2. Why is keeping score in real-time important? This question is based on the operators tracking throughput, accuracy, hours, etc. There is real power in ownership in people writing their own metrics down. Dry-erase boards are exceptional for this purpose. While computers often times can do this better than humans, it takes away all ownership and commitment. If you have read any of my blogs, you know my belief is that people want to work hard, want to do a good-job, and are wired to strive for something better. And if you want to prove this to yourself, write down every-single-thing you eat for a week. See how hard it is to write down that you have a dozen chicken wings, or a double-cheeseburger with bacon. We as humans don’t like when we know we are not doing our best. 

3. Will we use metrics to get rid of people? This one is a little trickier, but the short answer first must be “No.” What we want to understand is what is working and what isn’t working. If we have 2 operators in an area, and one of them is producing twice as much as the other one, we need to seek to understand why first. Maybe the lower producing person needs additional training or coaching or both. So we will use the metrics to improve our process and to help support the “operating standards.” If someone isn’t performing, then we must work with that person to help them get up to safety, quality and speed standards. If then, we cannot get the person performing we should evaluate our talent and expectations of performance. 

4. Metrics of performance evaluate our inputs. This one is key. If we are not performing, yelling at people or berating people is completely ineffective and harmful to our culture. What we must do (if we don’t like the results) is to look at how we are doing the work, and what are the inputs we are putting in to our system. Or, to put it a different way, “we must do something different if we want to get a different outcome.“ And until we have metrics, we really don’t know how we are doing.   

From a Continuous Improvement perspective, this is paramount. If we think that we are making improvements, but the data tells us otherwise, we need to adjust and react or review and respond. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different!

What’s In It For The Customer? For Me?

The conversation with the team went pretty-well and a couple of them thanked me after the meeting. The last part of the meeting was to reaffirm that there are in fact performance expectations that we must have in-order-for us to meet our customers’ expectations. And since without our customers, none of us have jobs it helped to break down the “us verses them” thinking. 

Finally, we discussed why it was important for them or WIIFM (what’s in it for me?).  For the operator, it will help identify what is good about their jobs, and what makes their jobs a pain in the neck, so we can work on the process together to improve it.  This part is designed to pull them into the process and ask for their very valuable input.

Please recognize that this is part of a bigger implementation with this client and it is crucial for us to collectively explain “why” we are doing things. People will often draw their own horribly inaccurate conclusions if we don’t explain things thoroughly and honestly with our team members. In this case, it was a simple matter of explaining the purpose and point of using metrics in a way that made sense for the people in the area. This approach also helps them understand that the change process can be done “with them” or “to them.”  I always prefer with them.