Unknowable Numbers and the Absurd


    Infor Launches ERP XA MES Suite for Lean Manufacturing

    This article talks about software for lean manufacturing environments, an idea that could be debated on its own. But the thing that jumped out at me here was the analyst comment:

    Ralph Rio, ARC Advisory Group, commented, “Software for enhancing a Lean Manufacturing program has become an important market segment. The recent ARC Market Outlook Study on Continuous Improvement Systems forecasts the market growth for systems and services at 12.7 percent annually.”

    Does saying “12.7%” give a level of precision that makes the forecast that much more believable. Who cares if any market is growing at 12.7% or 13.2593234%. It's ridiculous.

    Deming considered statements like this, I believe, to be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins of Management”:

    “Use of visible figures only for management, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable.”

    Good article on that here.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. On statistics – the Lancet came out today with a figure of 650,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion, with complete details of the methodology used. I think our president is saying something like 30,000 with no data or references to back that up. It’s appalling.

      On software, when I get a piece about lean from a software company, I look at it very skeptically. Quite often I can see that the company has a very imperfect understanding of lean principles and reject it. There are a few exceptions, but not many.


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