Pop Quiz, Monday with Mark Graban


The Pop Quiz, Monday is a fun little exam that we love to give to savvy business owners. The examination is not a surprise after all since the interviewee already knew about the questions in advance. However, we can always pretend and have fun with the scenario of a young entrepreneur sitting in class nervously biting on their pencil. They are ready to take a pop quiz on a chapter that they were supposed to read the night before. Instead, they played Metroid all night on their SNES (Oops, this was me in high school). The real purpose of the pop quiz is that this is a fun way to introduce business tips from real-world experiences that you can not learn in a classroom. We want to thank our entrepreneur for being a good sport and volunteering their time to answer a few questions to help our community grow from their knowledge.

I want to introduce you to our guest today who will be taking our Pop Quiz Monday.

Can you please tell everyone your name?

Mark Graban

What is your job role?

I was the third employee after the co-founders, helping the company go to market in 2011. As the company has grown, I’ve had various roles, but now serve as a part-time “Senior Advisor” to the company and various customers, while also doing speaking engagements, writing, and some independent consulting.

Tell us about your company?

KaiNexus is committed to helping customers create a culture of improvement, and we support them through our web-based software and services.

What do you love most about your job?

I love seeing our customers in various industries doing great things and improving the way they improve… using our platform to help improve patient care, employee safety, customer satisfaction, in addition to bottom-line savings.

What motivates you to get up every day and go to work?

The shared sense of mission and purpose (we are working to build a culture of improvement just like our customers are) — the feedback from our customers drives us to improve our platform and everything we do.

How do your co-workers inspire you?

Our co-founder and CEO, Greg Jacobson, MD inspires me as an E.R. doctor who found a calling in helping other health systems (and eventually companies in many industries). He’s a principle-driven leader who is trying to build a company that everybody can be proud of. I’m also inspired that we’ve hired and built a team that shares the vision that companies are better (and employees are happier) when they are engaged in a culture of improvement.

How do you have fun at work (team building, pranks, etc..)?

I don’t get to participate in the office Nerf basketball battles very often, but the company Fantasy Football league is something that brings together people from our Dallas and Austin offices (and other remote employees).

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Of all of the things that can possibly be done in a day, prioritizing the important, not just the urgent.

What are some lessons learned from a past project that you can share with us?

One lesson is a story that I told last year on stage at the Lean Startup Week event (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh1WhHcsNz8) and has told in my recent book, “Measures of Success.”

At KaiNexus, leaders tend to react (if not overreact) to every uptick or downturn in a performance measure. Or, we report a simple comparison of this month’s data against the average or this month compared to last month. I’ve seen a similar dynamic when I worked at companies like General Motors and Dell, and I also see it within hospital clients that I work with.

The problem with two-data-point comparisons is that we’re missing a lot of contexts that would turn raw data into insight that allows us to improve. Our director of marketing, Maggie Millard, has a lot of metrics related to sales, leads, website traffic, etc. I have tracked metrics in the company just the same around webinar registrations, social media engagement, etc.

After realizing we were falling into that trap of explaining every up and down (sometimes driven by inquisitive questions from our CEO), we decided to plot key metrics on what’s called a “Process Behavior Chart.” That form of a chart, for one, visualizes data over time to make sure we’re looking for meaningful trends and separating signal from noise (noise being routine fluctuations in the metric).

In the Process Behavior Chart methodology, you calculate “natural process limits” that help you understand the range of routine variation in a metric. Using three simple rules/guidelines, you can determine statistically if any single data point is an outlier (or signal) that tells you something has changed significantly in your system. The method also teaches you to look for a run of eight consecutive data points that are better than your baseline average instead of declaring victory too soon after making a change that you hope is an improvement.

As I’ve taught the team, including Maggie and Greg, to use Process Behavior Charts, Maggie spends less time digging to look for a “root cause” of a small fluctuation in a metric. Instead of spending an hour looking for a cause that isn’t there (there is no root cause for noise), she can spend an hour creating marketing content or doing other things that improve the system… which means she’s doing more to improve the system instead of trying to explain it.

We’ve learned that when you react less (looking for and reacting to signals instead of noise), you can better focus your time and do the things that contribute to improving your metric. Process Behavior Charts also help you better determine cause-and-effect relationships between changes you’re making as a company and your bottom line results. We’ve found this to be hugely beneficial, and we hope others would adopt this methodology.

I’ve written about how we use these charts in this blog post:

As our CEO said in his endorsement of my book:

“Mark Graban taught the KaiNexus team how to understand the story a metric is telling over time. We’ve saved time by not overanalyzing every up and down in our metrics — and that’s valuable time we now put to better use. This new way of thinking also decreases stress, which further helps us do better work. I’m excited that Mark is sharing these lessons through ‘Measures of Success,’ a book that will help accelerate your progress and lead to better results.”

And Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” and “The Startup Way” said:

“By combining a range of case studies and stories across industries, including many from his own personal experience, with detailed, clear explanations of what Process Behavior Charts are and why they’re so effective for managing data, Mark Graban has written a readable, informative book to guide any leader who wants to help an organization achieve true and lasting success. Improvement has been made easier thanks to his work.”

What advice would you give to someone who is starting in your industry?

You might have an idea of what your career is going to look like, but it’s hard to plan more than a few years out really. Look for moments of serendipity where you can let your career go in an unexpected direction. Those are where you often find the best and most fulfilling opportunities.

Thank you for taking our pop quiz today. You get an A+ for effort. You can learn more about our interviewee and their business by visiting them on the web:


Author: Ricky Singh, MBA

Editor of The Startup Growth.

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