Always measure before acting?

A remark from a daycare employee made me ask myself the following question. Must we always measure before acting? In this case, my boy seemed feverish, but she maintained that he was not, because she had not taken his temperature. Which from the egg or the hen … In this article, I propose to you to think about the measurement and to put it in perspective with the know-how and the field knowledge of the employees operating the systems.

Measure is a basic of continuous improvement

Mesurer la situation actuelle
Mesurer la situation actuelle © Vedran Jukic

One of the basics of operational excellence is that you cannot improve what cannot be measured. This is true: how to determine the progression, if the initial state, the current situation and the target are unknown? Even on processes that are “soft” or less measurable, there are always figures to measure performance: absenteeism rate, customer satisfaction score, failure rate, late delivery, etc.

In any process improvement, the first step will be to measure the current situation, then set targets, an action plan and measure process improvement, while correcting the action plan as required. This is the famous Deming wheel, or PDCA.

On the other hand, when a problem arises, how should we solve it? A process already improved is in principle measured continuously. With Six Sigma principles, it is even possible to predict that the process will deviate and will generate a fault. On the other hand, if the process is not measured continuously or has not been improved, what can be done? There are several problem solving techniques, which I described earlier, but they start AFTER the problem has been identified.

In the worst case, the problem is reported by the customer, it is he who notices the defect and tells us, and there may be a lot to catch up.

Trusting experience and feelings

Ideally, the operator will see it when it generates it and can report it. In principle, production should be stopped (jidoka, stop at the first fault) and the problem solved before proceeding. In reality, it’s quite different: too often, operators or front-line workers are not taken seriously when they escalate a problem. They are ignored, or for the problem to be taken into account, an outsider comes to measure and confirm the problem (and its magnitude).

As lean practitioners, what is the proper course of action? We have to trust our frontline employees, they know their operations better than the rest of the organization, if they think there is a problem, we should intervene quickly to correct the situation, and then measure if the fix has taken effect. And why not, put a permanent measure if the problem is recurrent.


How do you take into consideration the comments of your front-line employees? Are they the experts of your processes?

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