“But We Don’t Have Time to Analyze Data”
By John Heise, CLSSMBB, CMQ/OE (ASQ), Iowa Quality Center & WSNH Consulting
I was meeting with a client a few weeks ago, discussing their current situation and trying to come to consensus on how I could best support him and his organization. This young manager was new to this particular site and part of the organization. Also, I had been working with this facility for just about year in helping them with key quality issues. In our discussions however, he said something to me that I found very concerning, but yet not so strange. This individual told me “we need to get results; we don’t have time to analyze data”.
As I probed by asking him questions, he kept reemphasizing that point “we don’t have time to analyze data”. Now if you’re wondering if I debated the issue and changed his mind, the answer is “no”. I felt it wasn’t worth losing the relationship so I respected his opinion, we continued our conversation, and we were able to come to a consensus on how I could help him and his organization to move forward toward their goal. But his comment kept “bouncing around in my head” and I just couldn’t help think about the number of times, in my career of Continual Improvement leadership and consulting, I’ve heard other managers say about the same thing; “we don’t have time to analyze data”. The sad reality of that paradigm is that they will probably, with good certainty, not obtain their goals. And if they do they will be short lived.
Dr. Deming, and other key “Fathers of Quality”, always stressed the importance of data. In a video series we use within our quality training at IQC, Dr. Russell Ackoff talks about the “5 Levels of Learning”, shared by Deming. The 5 levels are:
- Data – numbers or symbols gather from the subject being studied
- Information – processed or analyzed data, typically displayed in charts or graphs
- Knowledge – what we gain from the information, tells us “how” things work
- Understanding – what we gain from knowledge, explains “why” things work the way they do
- Wisdom – sound application of the understanding gained from knowledge
To gain data, information, and knowledge, Deming stressed the importance of using Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA). Lean and Six Sigma methodologies break this down to Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC). Toyota talks about their 8-Step Problem Solving Process which just breaks PDSA down into more detailed steps. You can’t argue about Toyota’s success in getting results and they very much manage their day-to-day business using PDSA.
I read an article a couple months ago written by Simon Grogan, in which he shared that those organizations that don’t follow PDSA, do PDCA – Panic, Do, Crisis, ARGH! He shared how he has observed a lot of organizations that are full experience fire fighters. They are good at finding fires (and maybe even creating them) and then putting them out. But they are also characterized by daily crises, late projects, late deliveries, continual rework and high stress. I agree with Mr. Grogan and feel confident in saying that many of these organizations are not taking the time to do effective planning and gathering the right data to get the learnings they need. The result is that they don’t get what they need and they continue to clean up mistakes, typically the same issues over and over.
If you find your organization is caught in this paradigm then I would encourage you to take a deep breath, calm down, and start asking questions. Start by asking “why?” Why are we having these issues? When you do, look at how the work is getting done without blaming people. If you take the time to really observe what is going on, you will see that the majority of the time it is the way the work process is designed and used that is cause of the issue. Deming knew this very well. He shared in his “Lesser Category of Obstacles” (with his “14 Points”) that “Placing blame on workforces, who are only responsible for 15% of mistakes, is wasted effort, where the system, designed by management, is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences”.
I have found through my 25+ years of experience that those organizations that are willing to “slow down” and follow PDSA, will get to their desired goals much faster. And quite often, they will do so with a lot less stress. It requires taking the time to understand the system, or process, you are working with. Determining what data would be the most valuable in understanding the how the process is working (in generating its output). Then getting the data and analyzing it to gain understanding of what is going on; we typically call this learning “cause and effect”. There are the basic activities involve in Planning. Then developing a sound theory of improvement and implementing it (Do). Studying the results and Acting upon the results with the learnings gained. Also I find, if you’re not careful, you just might enjoy the journey of gaining knowledge through PDSA; it’s called success.
Now if you’re wondering if I have ever have had the opportunity to change this young manager’s mind, the answer is “not yet”. We agreed to a plan that we are working with his staff (several are trained in PDSA/LSS) and I trust the results will speak for themselves. During the meantime I will continue to work closely with him and his staff and enjoy the epiphanies as they come.
I hope you found this article useful. If you have any thoughts or questions about being stuck in paradigms, PDSA, or getting true results, please contact me at the Iowa Quality Center at (319) 398-7101, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.