By:” Shawn P. Quigley
Whereas we have discussed some of the possible flaws in measurements we can all still agree that they are needed to provide both improvement in processes and the organization. However, other aspects of obtaining data for the production of quantifiable information: trend analysis and process evaluation, is the human factor both workers and management. As in so many of our conversations we look at the affect it has on the people who are essentially being evaluated by the information gathered for these measures. An issue we will discuss later in this post, but first let us look at the management aspect of this equation.
As a quality analysis person data may seem to be clear most of the time, but as a management person how do you gauge the data which is being received? Do you understand its’ meaning? Do you look at the outliers to forecast or do you think they are just noise to distract? Do you understand the source of the raw data and how it is perceived, collected, gamed, or otherwise manipulated by the workers and/or the people who are packaging it for your review? These questions; if answered honestly will shed light on why the data does not always support what is known about a process or project.
Example: how many times have you as a manager been shown that a project/process is working as anticipated just to be told later that the process needs changing because it cannot be worked as written or the project goes from being on track to weeks or even months behind in the course of one day?
This brings the question: how could we not know this with all the data we collect on everything? Yes, it seems like an endless circle of questions.
To break some of these potential issues let’s look at one at a time:
- How do the people who are having their work, adherence to processes, project analyzed, and themselves analyzed perceive the data being collected? It may seem like a small question, but that is commonly where we find our best rewards. If the people perceive the information it as a threat then they may feel the need to manipulate that information to provide what they suspect is a safe environment. If they see no value; personal or professional, added by the data collected they could cause data scatter due to the manner of collection and inattention to that data. Thus again rendering the information to be useless or even worse misleading. Many of these types of issues can be negated by having a “Shared Vision” with those personnel. Specifically, all levels of the team should understand why the information is being collected and how it will benefit not just the team (company), but the individuals as well. As leaders and managers, we must ensure that our people can understand and see the benefit in these types on analysis. i.e. improving the processes to provide more job satisfaction.
- Do we as manager understand the system or systems which we are reviewing the data from? This is “Systems Thinking” in that an understanding of co- and inter- dependencies must be understood to determine what the data is suggesting ,and how that information should be applied. We have discussed the “Theory of Unintended Consequences” before and how that is most commonly related not to the information collected, but a poor understanding of the system as a whole and thus what the information is attempting to tell us. Systems’ thinking does not only apply to the managerial levels, but to the workers and supervisors as well. As we touched on in the first paragraph when we stated, “If they see no value”, this issue can be headed off by ensuring the personnel collecting the information have: at a minimum, a basic understanding of the system as a whole.
- Information collected is used to facilitate improvements which come in the form of changes to processes, procedures, or people. This is basic change management in which one must be able to determine the actual starting position to determine a direction which is less likely to lead to a poor course change. I liken it to the thought that a ship crossing the ocean is 5° off when it starts it will arrive on a different continent. This in turn cause a more drastic course correction the longer it is allowed to proceed. Under this thought pattern it would be prudent to take the time to understand before making incorrect changes. This understanding of change management will also aid in minimizing the number of course changes and thus reduce the churn upon those personnel involved in the change and those affected by the change.
- While we touched upon information collection possibly being perceived as a threat by those collecting the information in paragraph one and how in paragraph two we discussed using Systems thinking as one way to reduce this concern; we did not address the “Team Learning” aspect of information collection and application. Commonly data collected is provided to managers and higher personnel who determine what that information means and what actions need to be taken based upon that information. This approach removes a large talent pool from providing potentially valuable assistance in improving the whole. The incorporation of all personnel; at some level, into the change process also aids in developing ownership of both information collection and application. This in turn could reduce the some of the issues discussed with information collection (data scatter, data manipulation).
We only touched on four points that a manager should understand and apply in data collection and application there are many more to discuss. The point of this brief discussion on measures was to bring to light that; like change management, this process affects all levels of an organization and thus is dependent on all levels of the organization.