By the mid-1990s, as the focus turned to filling the gap in corporate new product and service pipelines, another metrics concept emerged on the scene. From an R&D perspective it came through the Environmental Health and Safety departments where the concept of a hierarchy of metrics evolved. This concept was derived from the work of Abraham Maslow, replacing his human needs with metrics associated with health and safety.

Maslow stated needs as a pyramid with physiological at the bottom, rising through security/safety, love/belonging, competence/prestige/esteem, self-fulfillment, to curiosity/need to understand at the top. Implicit in this hierarchy was the concept that what was measured was what was important to the organization at the time. When a metric’s utility fell off as the R&D environment or organization’s maturity changed, the metrics switched to others more appropriate to the new situation. The focus was “measure just what you need” in order to learn and improve your processes and results. As you improve, you move your measurement focus up the metrics hierarchy. This continually lightened the old load, even as new metrics were implemented.

Metrics Balance

EH&S directors further segmented their version of Maslow’s hierarchy into those metrics important to an R&D organization’s principal stakeholders: the laboratory, corporation, and society as a whole. Examples of laboratory metrics at the lower levels include: Physiological–Does the lab meet minimum regulatory compliance requirements? Security and Safety–Will the lab be the safest and healthiest environment for me this year? Love and feelings of belonging–Is everyone part of the EH&S effort? Do my co-workers care for my safety? What was also unique about this work is shown in the “Metrics Balance” figure, which depicts constant R&D laboratory performance gradients as a function of level and stakeholder’s interest.

The key insight from this view of metrics was that to have a truly effective EH&S program you always had to make sure the organization could “safely breathe” (literally) before you worried about toxic waste for society. You had to get the laboratory in order before you could focus on the company or society. But at the same time you could not focus on the highest planes of a safe laboratory and ignore unsafe products that put the company and/or society at risk. Plotting an organization’s changing EH&S awareness and performance on this grid gave the director a real-time view of what interventions to make for learning, and a way to explain EH&S’s contributions to the lab director.

This concept was later applied at a higher level by the quality movement. The insight for Quality was that you don’t need to spend time and money measuring a capable, in-specification, in-control process at the in-process level. Outcome metrics will do fine here. In such an environment, in-process controls represent organizational inefficiency versus best-practice. If the process drifts from the ideal state, however, then the in-process metrics are appropriately reinstituted until the reflexive “breathing” resumes.