July 16, 2008

Visualizing progress: expect fluctuation and watch the trendline

Progress hardly ever happens in a straight line. The picture to the left shows a real life example of an improvement process.

The red line shows the actual values found. As you see, it constantly fluctuates.

The blue line is the trend line which shows that over time there is a slow but steady improvement.

The arrows show the following: Arrow 1: fast first results, quick progress. Arrow 2: rather heavy fall back. Arrow 3: quick improvement again. Arrow 4: serious fall back again after which improvement picks up again.

It would be very easy to get discouraged when focusing too much on the fluctuations, at point 2 and 4 for instance.

Two things are important to remember: 1) It is normal for progress to show this kind of fluctuation, and 2) The trendline is an important line to watch.

This line shows you that there is actual growth overall. The trendline is a very motivating line to watch.


  1. Very useful Coert. I think some managers are very comfortable with numbers and conversations and forget that a picture is worth a lot of words.

  2. Here is an interesting New York Times article by Steven strogatz which adds an interesting perspective to my post on visualizing progress. Here are three quotes taken from the article:

    1. Calculus is the mathematics of change

    2. The derivative tells you how fast something's changing; the integral tells you how much it’s accumulating

    3. Things always change slowest at the top or the bottom

    Here is the full article: http://nyti.ms/cLhmD1


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