Running operations like a well-oiled clock

Do your operations run like a well-oiled clock? I have worked in organizations where the saying went, “You cannot fart without someone measuring it!” I have also worked in teams where leaders haven’t thought of measuring work as a part of the job description. And then, I have worked with teams in different places in between these extremes.

Measuring work is an essential part of what a leader does. Why? Fundamentally, because setting up metrics enables standardization of performance. Standardization makes aspects of our work routine. And only when aspects of our become routine, we can free up our minds for higher activity.

Imagine what life would be like, if activities like brushing teeth weren’t routine.

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The teams I run today have well-defined metrics encapsulated in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the customer or beneficiary of work. Teams have created these themselves through candid conversations with customers and others. We revisit metrics regularly because the world around us keeps changing and customer needs also change.

For the most part, we want to tell the health of our organization at a glance, like this.

dashboards airplan

In case you see a long road to getting there, don’t fret. Here’s what I recommend. Involve your team. Set the context for why it is important to measure – not to penalize people, and to differentiate performance and enable sustained improvement. Start with what you do measure. Ask the team what is a reasonable frequency of measurement. A year? A month? It does not matter. What matters is the team is confident to measuring at that frequency.

Now ask the team to do the following: Measure quarterly what can be measured yearly. Measure monthly what can be measured quarterly. Measure weekly what can be measured monthly. Measure daily what can be measured weekly.

I led a service organization once where the culture didn’t require measuring performance. One heard different stories about performance depending on who one spoke to. For the most part, people had a passion for solving customers’ problems. Customers were indifferent, some angry.

Why this disconnect?

Candid conversations with customers proved insightful. Among the metrics that mattered to customers, Turn-Around Time (TAT) ruled. We defined different categories of service based on the business-critical nature of issues. We defined service levels for different types of work in consultation with customers.

The initial data served as a wake-up call. We were nowhere near meeting expected service levels. We realized we needed to organize ourselves differently around daily tracking of TAT. The team believed they could measure adherence to service levels monthly.

Applying the principle just discussed, we set a target of measuring the adherence to services levels weekly. We got there within a quarter. Once there, we set ourselves a target of measuring daily. This required investment in IT assets. With the small demonstration we had made, it proved easier convincing executives to make that investment. Within another quarter, the team had put daily tracking in place.

Within the year, the team was no longer spent time ‘gathering metrics’. Automation generated dashboards that refreshed daily. An executive conducting a floor-walk remarked, “I seem to be able to tell at a glance what’s going on.”

Wouldn’t you like to hear your executives say that about the leadership provide? When it comes to getting good metrics, don’t do it all at once. Involve the team and get there in steps. And watch the magic unfold.

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