Targets Distorting the System

I still remember Dr. Brian Joiner speaking about process improvement and the role of data well over a decade ago. He spoke of 3 ways to improve the figures: distort the data, distort the system and improve the system. Improving the system is the most difficult.

There is an interesting article on the effects of distorting the system: Tony Blair says he will ensure NHS targets do not stop people from seeing their GPs when they want to, from BBC News.

The promise follows claims that some GPs’ surgeries are refusing to set appointments more than two days in advance because of the targets.

In order to make the data meet the targets the system is distorted to achieve the target, rather than to serve the customer.

From Peter Scholtes‘ article published in National Productivity Review in 1993, Total Quality or Performance Appraisal: Choose One:

Distorting the numbers, a form of creative accounting aimed at looking good rather than doing well, is rampant in American business. Given a standard to reduce employee turnover, one vice president of human resources simply changed the formula for calculating turnover. This change reduced the turnover ratio while improving nothing. Distorting the system often occurs because performance appraisal encourages individuals to squeeze or circumvent the system for their short-term individual gain, rather than improve it for collective long-term gain. The sales force pulls out all stops to meet one quarter’s sales quota and sales sag in the following quarter.

As Deming said: “A numerical goal without a method is nonsense.” and “Where there is fear you do not get honest figures.” Source MAQIN Newsletter: Quality at Work – Spring 2005 (link broken 🙁 so I removed it).

Related: Distorting the System, Distorting the Data or Improving the System