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Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest


Measures of Success

React less, lead better, improve more

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 12:03

In the foreword of Mark Graban’s book, Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More (Constancy Inc., 2018), renowned statistician, Donald J. Wheeler, writes about Graban: “He has created a guide for using and understanding the data that surround us every day.

“These numbers are constantly changing,” explains Wheeler. “Some of the changes in the data will represent real changes in the underlying system or process that generated the data. Other changes will simply represent the routine variation in the underlying system when nothing has changed.”

The problem is in deciding whether data changes are “noise” or signals of real changes in the system.

“Mark presents the antidote to this disease of interpreting noise as signals,” adds Wheeler. “And that is why everyone who is exposed to business data of any type needs to read this book.”

Measures of Success by Mark Graban

“I wouldn’t call this a ‘statistics book,’” says Graban. “I’d consider it to be a management book that happens to draw upon a few simple statistical concepts and methods. These methods aren’t complicated; they’re just different. Anybody can use them without a Six Sigma belt or a statistics degree. Using these methods, we can learn how to distinguish between activity that adds value to the customer and activity that’s wasted motion.

“Wheeler says management and statistical methods are ‘a way of thinking, with some tools attached,’ says Graban. “By reading this book, you’ll learn tools and this new way of thinking. Once you learn to understand variation, it’s impossible to unlearn. You’ll see opportunities to apply these principles every day.

“Organizations often measure too many things, losing sight that the ‘K’ in the KPI acronym means ‘key’ performance indicators, not ‘ka-jillion’ performance indicators,” says Graban. “The reality is that we have to do our best to choose measures that matter, and then manage those measures in the best (or least dysfunctional) way possible.

“It’s not enough to set targets and demand better results. Too many people believe that empowerment means setting aggressive targets and then leaving people alone to figure out how to meet them.”

Graban proposes three questions for improvement:
Question 1: Are we achieving our target or goal?
Question 2: Are we improving?
Question 3: How do we improve?

The process behavior chart provides a way to answer these questions. It tells us when the system that produced our metric has changed, for the better or the worse. It won’t tell us what changed but that something did change in a way that is significant and worth investigating. It helps us learn when not to react to noise in the data. It points toward systematic improvement approaches that are most appropriate for a given situation and helps evaluate these attempts.

As I read Measures of Success I thought the process behavior chart sounded like a wonder tool from the 1893 World’s Fair. How do you know what you’re really looking at? Or in my mind, how can I hear any signals through all that noise? I learned there are rules for that.

Graban explains that the process behavior chart is a pairing of two specialized and related run charts: an X chart that contains data points from a metric, and a moving range (MR) chart that shows the point-to-point variation between each data point on the X chart. There are three specific, scientific rules to identify signals in the X chart and another rule to identify signals in the MR chart, which Graban defines and clearly describes.

Graban wants to improve the way we improve.

He suggests ways in which statistical tools enhance improvement processes, which tools work better than others, what tools won’t help at all. He explains the right way to apply tools, the way results will appear, and how to understand what you’re looking at. He writes about information being useful in a different way, when to ask specific questions, and questions that lead to wasted effort. He asks questions that can change the way we think, to open the mind to consideration: If that doesn’t work, can we try this? He wants to take away the fear, end the confusion, and debunk myths that abound in statistical process control.

Graban’s enthusiasm is apparent, cover to cover, and it’s authentic.

About author Mark Graban

Mark Graban helps businesses leaders and workers improve their activities and processes with methods grounded in lean, math, and science—backed by data. Better to make choices based on facts instead of opinions, hunches, or feelings. Learn how to convert data, metrics, and charts into knowledge and wisdom to choose your next best action. That’s what Graban does and why he wrote Measures of Success.


About The Author

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Laurel Thoennes is an editor at Quality Digest. She has worked in the media industry for 33 years at newspapers, magazines, and UC Davis—the past 25 years with Quality Digest.


How does this book compare

How does this book compare with Joiner's book, Fourth Generation Management?  It sounds similar. 

I love Joiner's book

Hi - I have loved Joiner's book for a long time. I cite him in my discussion about his three things that can happen when there's, unfortunately, pressure to hit a target:

  1. Distort the system
  2. Distort the metric
  3. Improve the system

I hope he would like and appreciate my book.