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Made to Measure

By Chuck Delaney

September 12, 2017

Running a business without measuring its success is a bit like competing in football without a game plan. I watched one of my sons play for a coach for four years in high school without there being a clearly communicated plan in place. They had no idea how they were measuring up to the competition and didn’t know how to improve as a team. They were one of the more athletic teams in the division. If they’d been given objective goals and feedback, instead of frustrated emotional responses, they certainly would have had more wins and a greater sense of satisfaction. Because there was no measurable path for improvement, his team experienced a lot of losses, frustrations, and injuries.

The results in business aren’t much different: Measuring productivity, quality, and safety decreases losses, frustrations, and injuries. Measuring informs the customer, empowers the worker, and equips the manager. It provides everyone with a sense of confidence and value to their particular function. Whether you’re in management or manufacturing, your work was made to be measured.

Many industries, by virtue of what they produce, are innately challenging to measure. However, the packaging industry—whether you’re a small printer, major rigid box manufacturer, or a paper plant—lends itself to measurement. Presumably, you’re tracking your company’s or department’s operational productivity and financial health. It’s also advantageous to track waste, machine operation time, turns of inventory, and units shipped, given materials and cost of labor. Different types of businesses have varying degrees of nuance involved in their measurements. For the remainder of this article, I’d like to offer two pieces of cautionary advice.

1. Don’t let measuring change the culture of your workplace.

Measurement and data collection value technical perfection and statistical accuracy, and they can introduce methods that are precise, but ignore a manager’s day-to-day challenges. Any manager will confirm that productivity indexes can seem out of touch. My father-in-law, who was my business mentor, used to say, “Rules are for when the brain stops working.” One way to avoid this pitfall is to focus on labor dollars per product instead of dollars per hour.

An article titled “No-Nonsense Guide to Measuring Productivity” in the Harvard Business Review, by W. Bruce Chew, states: “When deciding whether you need greater measurement precision, ask first whether greater precision will make a real difference in subsequent actions to improve productivity. Executives should seek the measure that promises the greatest impact, not the measure boasting the greatest accuracy or technical elegance.”

2. Before you purchase equipment, have a plan to measure its value.

I’ve seen my fair share of businesses burdened with the expense and challenge of operating new equipment. It doesn’t matter how great the deal is or how much better your product will be if you have no capacity to measure. The first and simplest form of measuring

is making a list. Think about the times you’ve gone to the grocery store without a list to buy your meals for the week. I am quite certain you’ve generated much more waste, produced less quality food, and made unhealthy choices. Likewise, before considering a major equipment purchase, it’s imperative to create a list of your equipment requirements. You may find that you’ll save costs in unexpected ways, or you may identify something you should outsource. Bear in mind there are always unseen costs to developing new competencies. New equipment means new training and safety protocols, and there will be a learning curve. Have the tools and protocols in place so you can measure your employees’ readiness and the quality of your product.

Emotions and gut instincts have their place in business, but in my experience, it’s better to leave them out of management practices and equipment purchases. If you wish to manage something, then you have to measure it. Measuring your work sheds light on your company’s processes and productivity and leaves little room for gray areas. It also provides a clear path for employees to have greater success in their jobs. Measuring gives us the truth of a situation, and the truth will always set you free.

width=150Chuck Delaney is managing director of GROW Retail Technologies. He can be reached at 708-491-5090 or

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