Measuring Lean Implementation: It’s Not a Yes or No Answer

Measuring Lean Implementation: It’s Not a Yes or No Answer

By Jennifer Lacy, Building Forward® Lean Practice Leader, Robins & Morton and Christena Smith, Preconstruction Estimator, Robins & Morton

At the recent LCI Congress, we had the opportunity to present “Measuring Lean Implementation: It’s Not a Yes or No Answer” to a full room of attendees. It was gratifying to see that so many of our colleagues recognized the importance – and challenges – of measuring Lean implementation.

With some time behind us, we’ve had the chance to talk to others about the presentation and review the feedback, key points continue to stand out for us.

First, the fundamental challenge remains; are you implementing Lean? That is not a yes or no answer. Everyone in that room was committed to Lean, but the level of experience with Lean tools and how they implement those tools on their projects varied widely.

The information we shared last October at Congress represented a years-long journey for Robins & Morton. The Robins & Morton Building Forward® approach is a combination of our company’s culture and Lean tools. The Building Forward® approach is defined, with consistent processes and a supporting structure. That said, the first time we were asked to quantify participation in Building Forward®, we did not have an answer. The Building Forward® approach – and the inherent emphasis on Lean – was a commitment shared widely across the company, but, just as with the audience at LCI, individuals and teams varied widely in their knowledge, experience, and implementation.

Our early attempts at measurement assessed activity within project teams and departments. We wanted to know if team members were using the tools and how they were using them. That gave a benchmark measurement, but it wasn’t actionable. We needed data that we could use to drive improvement. Eventually, we settled on an early team alignment to identify commitments and then a ranking system (1-5 scale) that enabled teams to assess their knowledge and implementation of Lean tools easily and objectively against a consistent measurement. That gave us a much more meaningful measurement of implementation than a check-the-box or yes-or-no response. Using the ranking system, we could now see levels of commitment, understanding and implementation across the tools and across teams.

Even more important than the more accurate measurement is the fact that the metrics we are collecting are actionable. This helps us identify those teams who have greater experience with certain Lean tools, and those that could benefit from support. We are also able to identify patterns and detect underlying causes of problems before a significant amount of time is wasted. This gives us the opportunity to ask these questions.

  • Why are some tools getting more use than others?
  • What are the roadblocks to implementation, and how we can we remove them?

So, what is the big deal about “measuring Lean implementation?” Once you are implementing Lean in your organization, the next step is to analyze, adjust and find innovative ways to improve your processes and systems. This means being deliberate in what you measure.

In the presentation we included one of our favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Sometimes we fall into the trap of measuring for the sake of measuring. This is a waste of time and effort. It can also contribute to information overload and dissuade buy-in. This is a great reminder that Lean can have some very profound impacts – such as the empowerment of individuals, and the growth they experience personally – this is something we can’t find on a spreadsheet.

So, how do you count what counts? Here are some the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and that we shared during our Congress presentation this past year.

  • The goal of data collection is mining stories – good information tells useful stories. Useful stories lead to solutions and successes. In other words, what story does the data tell us, and what can we learn from it?
  • Close the gap between ideas and actions – just start somewhere. Our first attempts at measuring Lean implementation fell short of where we are today, but it was a start. Through a collaborative effort, we were able to learn from them and improve.
  • Choose the tools that work for your team – there is no right or wrong way to collect and manage data. We went from reports that were manually added to spreadsheets to an assessment app and PowerBI reports. Find what works for your team.
  • Find an advocate – rely on team leaders, but don’t overload one person with the whole job. On each team, we have an advocate who leads the quarterly assessment process using our app and turns in the results. This is a great leadership development opportunity for the advocate.
  • Measure what matters – start with questions and discover what you want to know, then use those answers to design a data set that provides answers. Use data to help you move toward something, not just to measure where you are.
  • Avoid data graveyards – be sure you’re using the information you collect! If you’re not using this information to improve your company, then why are you collecting it?
  • Avoid data silos – provide the results of data collection to the team they’re collected from in a digestible format.
  • At the end of the day, reflect and celebrate your progress – Never forget this important step!

As Lean practitioners, we recognize that our circumstances are always evolving and changing, and measurement provides a pathway for us to try, fail, learn, and grow. Instead of focusing on sheer output, having established goals creates confidence in the outcome of Lean implementation. While it can be daunting to begin, our advice will always be to try. Measurement is a journey, not a finite achievement.

Do you have a story to share? Submit an abstract for the 2023 LCI Congress by March 2nd by clicking here.