Visual Metrics

I am using the term “Visual Metrics” as this post discusses something that happened in the 90s before other terms became en vogue.

The group I supervised at a Fortune 500 company with over 20,000 employees at this one manufacturing facility was responsible for tracking and reporting customer complaints. Like many corporations in the late 80s/early 90s, QUALITY became paramount in the culture. While I published the Top Ten complaint reasons for the executive staff each month, we still were not making a serious dent in our complaint rate. To help focus our efforts, the VP of Quality and Research had a billboard erected by the Main Gate displaying our monthly satisfaction percentage for the year (100% minus the complaint percentage). Driving into the mill each day, all employees could see for this month we were at a 98.2% satisfaction rate per se.

Improvements were made and the percentage creeped above 99%. Although it fluctuated, it hovered right above 99% for over a year. Sensing that we all were becoming complacent being above 99% - almost all of us would be happy with a 99% on an exam – I recommended that we should change the metric to something meaningful and visual to each employee. Instead of using the satisfaction percentage, we should display how many coils of steel were rejected each month. Why? For starters, we shipped out coils daily and had large coil fields around the plant so everyone could envision a 20 ton coil. Second, a coil of finished steel at that time was almost equivalent to the price of a brand-new car. A complaint percentage of 0.73% doesn’t resonate as much as 482 coils rejected or 482 Honda Accords junked.

Nowadays the common metric is PPM. But for many organizations, PPM is not as enticing as making the metrics relatable to the worker on the production floor or to the clerk in a service facility. Many of us when we have taught about measures of poor quality, have used examples of what a 1% failure rate means in the “real world” - dropped babies, planes falling from the sky, or other extreme scenarios. The key is to have a metric that each employee can personally relate to and understand in the drive for Crosby’s Zero Defects. (I remember a conversation at Kennedy Space Center with a manager when he stated that he was proud that they only had 2 or 3 errors that month. I needed to remind him the goal is 0 and we do not stop improving performance until we consistently hit that goal.)

If you feel momentum losing ground, consider revamping the metrics you use. And just as important, make them timely. I would always cite companies when doing an audit if their posted performance graphs were many months in arrears. If management doesn’t feel it is important to keep them current, an employee soon realizes that it is just window dressing for us auditors.

2 Replies
Janet Lentz
113 Posts

@Steven Schuelka
Excellent post on a very important subject. I completely agree that making your metrics personally meaningful to employees can be an excellent driver of improvement. Many workers want their jobs to have an impact in a social responsibility aspect as well. For example, I once worked at a company that made a medical device component for the eye care industry. Employee engagement was lackluster until I pointed out that we were helping millions of people to see without fear of infection. As quality professionals, it's our job to help top management understand and engage people in continuous improvement.

Duke Okes
244 Posts

@Steven Schuelka I like the idea of reporting metrics in terms that people might be able to relate to.

Maybe “Our COQP during the last quarter would pay the monthly rent for an average person for X years.”