Admit it: you don’t know where you are going
W. Edwards Deming once said, ‘if you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing’. In the same way, I believe that if you can’t describe the goal of your project clearly, you don’t know why you are doing it.
Let me be very clear about this point: if you don’t have a crystal clear goal, your lean project will probably fail. Even if things go more or less well – which is not very likely without a clear goal, but may happen for some unknown reason – you can’t prove it because you don’t have anything to track your progress. In 99% of the cases, the best structure to describe your goal is this: ‘make something go up’ or ‘make something go down’. And that’s it. It’s so simple that it is very difficult to do.
Goals should be related with H-Q-D-C metrics: Health (Safety, Environmental), Quality, Delivery and Cost, in order of importance. Some people include also the Moral category, but the first four are appropriate in most cases. Avoid goals like ‘implement a system to optimize the customer experience’, which are misleading and unclear. Follow the ‘make something go up/make something go down’ rule and convert it to ‘reduce complaints’, ‘reduce waiting time’, ‘increase sales’… force you to define what you really want to accomplish. And please, eliminate the words ‘optimize’ and ‘implement’ from goal descriptions. ‘Implement’ makes me especially nervous because it means, in many cases, that somebody knows (or at least thinks so) the solution to the problem to solve. In that case, don’t start an improvement project and simply put the solution in place.
When talking about religion, love and many other aspects of life, it is ok to be ambiguous and unspecific. ‘I love you’ is definitely a much better option than ‘my love for you has been on average 56% this week’. But when you are working on a lean project, be specific. Please.