Past headlines have brought to light a suspected phenomenon in our High Schools and Colleges in the United States where it is believed that the grading is too easy resulting in grade inflation. As a results, a higher percentage of students graduate with honors. Just having more honor students is not a cause for alarm but the implication that students are not grasping the subjects yet are giving passing grades is a cause for concern. It is also a great concern that our students may not be fully prepared to meet the challenges to compete in a global economy. From my recent experiences, this same phenomenon is evident in lean transformations.
Several facilities that I have worked on lean implementation along with many visits to numerous plants across the country this past year seem to all have the same grade inflation. For example, the scores for zone areas in 5S are all rated high regardless of what scale system is used yet when I take a gemba walk through the same area, the area is NG (translated as No Good). Could it be an issue calibration of different auditors? Sure. Could it be that waste or problems are not seen? Absolutely. Is it possible that we think something is good enough and not seek the more difficult path to perfection? Yes.
The same could be seen in lean assessments, judging our leanness on a scale. What or who determines the correct measure of leanness? This adds a whole new avenue for debate on if we are lean, lame, limp or lost. (LAME – Lean As Misguidedly Executed as coined by Mark Graban at Lean Blog) (adding to the list: LIMP – Lean, It’s a Manufacturing Program and LOST – Lean, Only Sees Tools).
It is said that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” which is only true if you create a reliable and consistent measurement system. With grade inflation, I suspect that our measurement system is both unreliable and inconsistent.
In addition, the grade inflation phenomenon occurs in self evaluations and survey data. That is one reason that I tend to take all survey data with a grain of salt. Our self image is usually thought to be greater than what is seen by others. We tend to grade ourselves too high. Just as in the case of school grades, it is not really an issue of high scores as much as it is in grasping the subject or ability to compete. With higher scores we convince ourselves that we are not really that bad. We become comfortable and secure in the higher scores and everyone feels better. In reality, we miss the point.
On a lean journey, we should never be satisfied, never become comfortable, and never feel secure in the status quo. The grade matters less than gaining understanding and the constant effort to improve forever.