There’s always a tradeoff

May 22, 2012

So we’re supposed to be working with continuous improvements now? Kaizen, Toyota Kata, Retrospectives, PDCA and what else? Don’t worry, I’m not going to bash any of these approaches, they’ve all got their merit. I just want to write some about the follow-up.

In order to see if our improvement efforts are giving us the expected benefit we need to measure something. It could be hard metrics such as velocity, cycle time or costs. Or it could be softer metrics such as happiness index, perceived workload or communication. We need at least to be able to express the metric in terms of “more of” or “less of” so we can see if we got more of what we wanted or less of what we didn’t want after implementing a change. But of course you already knew that.

What most people also know but have a tendency to forget is that there are no free lunches. There is always a tradeoff.

Tradeoffs

There is always a tradeoff and you need to identify it so you can ask yourself the question that Jerry Weinberg poses in The Secrets of Consulting;
“What are you willing to sacrifice?”

Don’t measure your progress in just one dimension, no metric should be evaluated on its own. Identify at least one possible tradeoff before you hop on your PDCA-cycle and start pedalling. Find a metric that allows you to follow-up on this possible tradeoff as well and then ask yourself what you’d be willing to sacrifice in this dimension to reach your goal in the dimension you wish to improve. Follow up on both of these metrics (or all, if you’ve identified more than one possible tradeoff) to see when the cost of your improvement efforts is exceeding the benefit.

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