Pursuing Perfection


One of the basic tenets of lean philosophy is the pursuit of perfection: after improving one's own performance, or the efficiency of the system (or both), you need to go back and do it again. And again. And again. Not that you'll ever reach perfection (no inventory, no waste), but striving for that ideal forces continuous improvement. In a manufacturing setting, it's easy to measure improvement: cycle time, inventory levels, time required to exchange dies, number of defects, on-time shipments, etc. But how do you measure improvement in an office environment? How do you quantify the improvement in your own work habits and situation? Here are a few ideas:

  • How many messages are languishing in your inbox? Perfection is (in the words of Merlin Mann) "Inbox Zero." Track the number of emails in your inbox the end of each day for about a month and see if you can get that number down to zero on a regular basis.
  • How many linear inches are your files consuming? As I've written about before, grossly obese file folders, jammed with papers, usually indicate the presence of documentary lard. This isn't by any means a scientific test, of course. (You may have taken on a couple of new projects.) But it's a way to start analyzing and measuring -- albeit imperfectly -- the way you manage your information.
  • How often do co-workers (particularly subordinates) complain that you should have given them some file/task/assignment earlier, when it first landed on your desk. (You know who you are.) These complaints are a clear indication that the value stream is backing up at your desk, and that people farther downstream are now going to suffer through muri or mura.
  • How often, and by how much, do your meetings run past the set end time? How long does it take to get meeting notes out to attendees?
  • How much time do you spend each day/week looking for stuff?

Any suggestions on other measurements that would help in the pursuit of perfection?

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