If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved

By | December 9, 2010

“If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.”

Printing company leaders have certainly heard this phrase or a variant of it, but how many of us put it in practice? Our industry provides us with great financial data every year with the PIA Ratio Studies, and we can get industry benchmarks for sales growth, factory costs, profit per employee, payroll and benefits, etc., but what about benchmarking and measuring the performance of our operations?

Industry standards for operations performance may be hard to develop, but each company needs to create its own Key Performance Indicators to review those operations that are important to its business. These KPI’s must be established via a planning process and then they need to be measured on a regular basis, providing a dashboard for your key managers.

What you measure should be driven by your customers’ requirements and satisfaction. Some of these operational KPI’s that you may want to quantify and then determine the causes are:

  • Late deliveries of proofs and jobs
  • Bad or rejected proofs
  • Bad or rejected plates
  • Excessive makereadies
  • Excessive material waste
  • Jobs reprinted due to poor quality

You may have other operation activities that you want to measure, and that’s the point. What you measure should come out of a planning process involving team members who identify problems or areas for improvement in your company. To be most effective, put a dollar cost on the problem, and that will attract even more attention to the process.

Step one is identifying the activities to be measured and improved. Step two is determining how to measure them on a regular basis. Step three is analyzing the results and finding ways to improve the operation. And step four is continuing to measure to determine that your solution works. All of this should be done with a task force of associates from across the company which is responsible for identifying and improving your company’s operations.

You’ll get an automatic improvement when your associates understand that their work is being monitored. And by identifying your inefficient operations and improving their performance, you will see those financial ratios improve. A little measurement can go a long way.

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3 thoughts on “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved

  1. Erik Nikkanen

    “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.”

    I am sorry but this is one of the most ridiculous expressions that continues to be stated as if it is a fact.

    There is no doubt that measurements help in identifying problems but there are many problems that can be corrected without a system that collects data.

    Educated and skilled people can observe problems and develop solutions without data. It is nice to have data but it is not always necessary.

    What is necessary even if one has data is for people to have the ability to understand the fundamental cause of the problem and have the innovative skills to correct that problem.

    Data is not knowledge. It is not even fact. Data can be misleading and limiting. Just because all the data before 1900 said that man can not fly did not mean that man can not fly.

    Don’t always expect that data will lead to a solution. One still needs to do some thinking.

  2. Elizabeth Gooding

    Erik – it’s true that humans have amazing cognitive skills for estimating. That leads to the ability to “guestimate” how certain approaches or processes are performing. It may enable individuals to also incrementally and iteratively improve the process. Note I say individuals. In a corporate environment – the individual often has to make the case for action. Making the case requires evidence. Evidence implies measurement.

    So… in a corporate environment it is very logical to argue that what can’t be measured can’t be improved. In reality – even if you measure it there is a pretty good chance you won’t get the budget to improve it 🙂

  3. Eric Welburn

    Erik – All the data now says man cannot fly – I don’t know about you but I definitely can’t. It doesn’t mean that man won’t fly in the future. So where is the limitation in the data?

    Data rarely leads to a solution (unless it is a simple problem) it simply informs thinking. Intangible measurement is where we should be in HR – unfortunately very few HR Professionals are very savvy with numbers. This is one reason why there is a lot of kick-back against measurement and why most HR ‘initiatives’ do not show any kind of ROI.



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