Lean Metrics in the Real World

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Today, I was faced with the unfortunate task of renewing my driver’s license. It’s been 10 years since the last renewal and I remember the last time I was at the Maryland MVA (Motor Vehicle Administration) office, I waited for what seemed to be an hour.  We all know how painful the experience is.  You stand in line, you get to the front of the line, they tell you to go fill out some paperwork and then to get back in line. I will use the opportunity to teach others about lean metrics.

Lead Time

Lead time is the time between the initiation and completion of a production process.  In my case, I left the office at 09:00 and arrived back at the office at 10:00.  The lead time to get a renewed driver’s license was 60 minutes.  Given my goal, the shorter the lead time the better.

Cycle Time

Cycle time is the total time from the beginning to the end of a process, as defined by you and your customer. Cycle time includes process time, during which a unit is acted upon to bring it closer to an output, and delay time, during which a unit of work is spent waiting to take the next action.  The shorter your cycle times (including delays) the shorter your lead time.

My cycle times included:

  • 15 minutes – driving to MVA office
  • 5 minutes – standing in initial line to be added to the proper queue
  • 16 minutes – wait time to get the front of the line
  • 5 minutes – actual renewal processing
  • 4 minutes – wait time to be given the new driver’s license
  • 15 minutes – driving back from the MVA office

Cycle time is one of the key lean metrics

My hat comes off to Maryland MVA.  On their website, they provide current wait times at the different locations.  I took a screen grab before I headed to the local MVA branch.  This feedback was very valuable.  Given the service I needed, it allowed me to provide an estimate of my time away to others I was going to be working with today.


Throughput is the the amount of material or items (people in this case) passing through a system or process per time unit. With an average cycle time of 5 minutes for the renewal process, the throughput in 60 minutes would be 12 people.  At first glance, I didn’t see any real bottlenecks or delays in their system.  Given what I saw, I believe 10 people an hour is a reasonable throughput.

Understanding Lean Metrics

I hope this brief real world example of lean metrics is valuable to you.  When I was at a session for value stream mapping at Agile 2015, the poor guy leading the session kept getting lead time and cycle time mixed up.  The people in the room heckled the hell out of him. After reading this, that should never happen to you.

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Niko-Niko Calendar


niko-nikoWhile I was at the recent Agile Leadership Network (ALN) event earlier this month, Dave Nicolette presented a talk on metrics.  I’ll admit, I’m fascinated by metrics.  I remember working on the NIH Executive Dashboard and then the NCI Dashboard between 2004 and 2007 .  But since then, I’ve grown to look at metrics differently.  Though I’ve taken steps to ask myself questions to ensure my metrics are worth something,  I’ve seen the Hawthorne Effect in action and it made me question how metrics can be easily manipulated. Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to measure team performance and then they start acting all crazy due to upcoming dates like the end of the sprint or the end of a deployment cycle?  I’ve seen developers start to rush.  Risk goes up and quality can go down, just to try and maintain a velocity.  Well, Dave showed a slide in his metrics presentation that really hit home for me.  It’s called the Niko-Niko (mood) Calendar.

Let’s say your position in the company is to ensure customer satisfaction.  A useful unit of measure would be NPS (Net Promoter Score).  Think of it as a customer satisfaction or “happiness” metric.  NPS is based on the fundamental perspective that every company’s customers can be divided into three categories: Detractors, Passives, and Promoters. By asking one simple question — How likely are you to recommend [Company X] to a colleague or friend? — you can track these groups and get a clear measure of company performance through its customers’ eyes.  I’ve written about it before in a post titled Outdated Success Criteria.

That’s all fine and good but what if your position in the company is to ensure employee satisfaction?  As a manager or a leader you should be working to keep your employees happy.  How would you measure their happiness?  You could use a Niko-Niko calendar.  Each individual on a team should identify their daily mood in one of three ways: happy, indifferent, or unhappy.  Because I keep a daily journal of what I do, I recreated a calendar to see if there were any trends.  Do you see any?  Can you see the the days I was working at my other job and I was dreading a particular meeting?  Can you see the days I spoke to LitheSpeed or when I was hired by LitheSpeed?  Though you can’t make everyone on your team happy, as a manager or servant-leader, you should be creating an environment that will, in the end, make them happier and more productive.  If everyone on the team maintained a mood calendar, a manager or leader could take action before negative feelings become caustic to a team.

Relying on Indicators


I just realized I’ve been driving automobiles for 25 years. Do the math and I’m either older than you thought or I started driving earlier than you thought. Either way, I may have surprised you. What surprised me, the other day, was my reaction to an illuminated indicator light on my relatively new vehicle. It used to be, vehicles had very view indicators.  Of course, there was the analog fuel gauge.  I knew how accurate it was by the amount of times I ran out of gas.  There was also the check engine light.  I think I saw a check engine light once, back in 1986, when I simultaneously saw smoke appearing from under the hood of my 1980 Honda GLC.  My point is, back in the day, by the time you saw the indicator light, it was too late.  Fast forward to today and I realize I have half a dozen indicator lights and I’m very aware of them.

Seat Belt:
This indicator normally lights up if I have not buckled my seat belt.  The light is accompanied by a soothing reminder tone.  The result is I usually look around to notice if anyone is looking at me.  I sheepishly click my seat belt and go on about my business.  It happens on rare occasion, much like farting in public.  Either way, it’s embarrassing and hopefully nobody is around when it happens.
Low Fuel:
This warning normally indicates the car is low on fuel and I should get to the nearest gas station. Fortunately, I also have a digital indicator that tells me how many miles I have left. Regardless of knowing how many miles I have left, having the light appear still creates a certain level of anxiety.  I guess it’s merely a flashback from my reckless youth when I never seemed to put more than $5 worth of gas in my car at a time.  The difference is that used to get me more than 5 gallons of gas, compared to about one gallon now.
Check Engine:
This indicator still frustrates me.  I’ve seen this indicator a few times in the last few years.  Each time it was when the car was dead and would not start.  It would be nice if it actually gave me some kind of warning.  I know the car is dead.  If anything, it should be a scull and crossbones.  I’m not a car mechanic.  Therefore, what good does it do to tell me to check the engine?
Tire Pressure:As a result of the Check Engine indicator light, I now have a new car.  It’s full of all kinds of awesome things, like USB, Bluetooth, and a thermometer that tells me how hot or cold it is outside.  But, I have a new indicator light that I’ve never seen before.  Well, not before last week.  It’s a tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) to monitor the air pressure in each of the tires.

So, here I am writing a post about my car and the indicator lights. What’s my point? My point is, the tire pressure indicator illuminated and I nearly got into an accident, trying to get out of traffic and onto the shoulder of the road.  I was suddenly concerned about what was wrong.  I didn’t hear an explosion.  The car was not pulling to the left or to the right.   My gut was telling me that everything was fine but I’ve been conditioned into believing these indicator lights.  I got out of my car and looked at the tires.  All looked fine.  I took the car to the dealer and had them check the pressure.  All was fine.  After a diagnostic test, it was discovered that the sensor was malfunctioning.

Again, what’s my point?  Do you use metrics or indicators on your project that tell you how things are progressing?  Do you think you rely on them too heavily?  Could it be you need to trust your gut more and the indicators less?  Next time you’re measuring your team or project performance against an indicator (or metric), take a moment to kick the proverbial tires.  Don’t just accept the metric as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Now if only I could get that guy in front of me to notice he’s had his blinker on the last 15 miles.

Categories: Project Management Tags: Tags: ,

PMI Statistics Through December 2010


The December Project Management Institute (PMI) statistics are in.  The PMI now has over 412,503 active Project Management Professionals (PMPs) and 334,019 members. So, what’s new?

Again, the one bit of data I took note of was the PMI membership numbers.  Over the last year, the data being displayed in PMI Today has changed.  It used to be, you could see how many new people got their PMPs.  The Fact File now shows only Total numbers of each credential.  It does, however, still show New (PMI) Members.

The February 2011 issue of PMI Today (page 4) indicates there are 7,803 new members.  In fact, there is an overall increase of just 2,322 members.  5,481 PMI Members chose not to renew their membership in December.  Though I don’t have data to support it, I believe people are signing up for PMI memberships, with the intent of getting a PMP accreditation.  If they don’t reach their goal, they don’t renew their membership.

PMI needs to do a better job of selling people on the value of the PMI membership, not just an accreditation or certification.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
New PMPs (Net) 3,714 3,713 5,344 4,718 3,985 4,630
Total Active PMPs 367,619 371,014 375,959 381,111 385,096 389,726
Total PMI Members 314,721 315,106 317,962 317,787 317,989 318,421
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
New PMPs (Net) 3,687 3,965 2,681 3,161 5,939 3,344
Total Active PMPs 393,413 397,378 400,059 403,220 409,159 412,503
Total PMI Members 320,388 323,220 327,180 330,001 331,697 334,019

So, what do you think?  Why do you think there is an ever-growing gap between PMI membership and the accreditations or certifications they offer?

Source: PMI Today

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TPS Report

TPS Report

After my little diatribe titled “Project Management Theater” I had a few days to think about the less than stellar status report provided by the vendor to my customer.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized the vendor did nothing to meet the unique customer needs.  The attitude was Well, you asked for a status report. This shows status. I’m a firm believer that you need to understand who your customer is and then provide status reporting to meet their needs.  Even when using a burndown chart for a team, I usually don’t show that to a C-Level. I understand that C-Levels (CEOs, COOs, CTOs…) are looking at the business more strategically.  For that reason, I offer my 50,000 foot view of the project or program.  TPS Report Two years ago, when I arrived at this PMO, I looked at their Metrics Plan.  One of the things that was missing was a summary graph or chart for the Federal Senior Executives (SES). What you see above is one graphical indicator I provided to them.  What you do not see in the screen-grab is the associated data, which I made available on subsequent pages.

I’d like to thank Sam Palani over at Around the CHAOS for inspiring me to write this post. His post How Worthy are Your Status Reports nailed it.

Feel free to download a copy of my original (TPS Report) template Total_Project_Status_Template

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Measuring (Project) Health

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You’d think I would follow my own advice when it comes to my own health.  When dealing with project deliverables or tasks, I like to get feedback from the team as often as I can.  Ideally, I recommend daily feedback.  Realistically, there are extended team members who you don’t deal with on a daily basis.  Due to their expertise, you may need to share this person with others on the program.  Notice I didn’t call him or her a “resource”.  Anyway, you need to make sure you do a few things, when interacting with these team members.  One, identify the maximum amount of time that will elapse between interactions.  Two, identify some threshold criteria.  Exceed the threshold and you should be interacting with this team member.

Now, I’ve followed this prescription in the past, when dealing with experts like Software Architects.  Seriously, it doesn’t matter the title of the person we’re talking about.  What’s important is you know you have maybe one or two of these types on your program.  The other important thing to note is if you don’t do either of these things, you run the risk of this coming back and biting you.

3 indicators you’ve gone too far

  1. You have not interacted with your expert within the predefined timeframe
  2. You have not interacted with your expert after a threashold has been exceeded
  3. Your expert has prescribed Levofloxacin to you
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