Article: Six Steps for Using Data to Excel

A Lesson from Six Sigma DMAIC Methodology and Continuous Improvement

You’d be surprised how so many people have learned to talk about and preach the need for data, data, and more data. You’d also be surprised how so many people have no idea for what to do with all this data that they can’t live without. All of the weekly reports, in depth analysis, and strategy meetings mean nothing if you don’t follow these fundamental guidelines to managing and using data to improve performance.

Step 1: Define the right problem. Its amazing how people jump right from symptom to solution without having the slightest idea for what the real underlying problem is. Defining the right problem is key because it leads you to gather the right data. Contrary to what many believe, all data is not created equal; and the data you will need to place the most value is the specific data related to your specific issue.

Step 2: Measure your process. It’s the only way to know the real impact of the issue that you have defined in step 1. Observe the process with your own eyes for an extended period of time. Collect data over an extended period of time. Conduct surveys – ask the people closest to the issue what they have observed. Take samples that adequately represent the population of outcomes. These things collectively make up the best data you can possibly get. Above all, see it with your own eyes; nothing makes an issue register in your own mind like seeing it first hand.

Step 3: Analyze the Situation. Here you use the data and all other information that you can gather to identify the root causes of the issue. The most popular forms of root cause analysis are Fishbone, Pareto, and 5Why Analysis. Use the one or combination most appropriate for your issue. Most often, the order of use is first Pareto, then Fishbone, then 5 Why. This is because Pareto gives the broadest level and 5 Why gives the most detailed level of information.

Step 4: Improve the Situation. This is the step after the root causes have been identified where you create potential solutions. These solutions can come from a variety of different sources such as brainstorm sessions, suggestion boxes, or from research or benchmarking. Whichever method of coming up with ideas that you use, you’ll need a process of weeding out the bad ideas and deciding on which ones to implement. This can be done in a variety of ways as well including voting, setting up a spreadsheet that allows you to score ideas against the organization’s values, or perhaps some form of collective bargaining. Then you need to pull your resources and implement. Up until now, you haven’t had the need to spend money or any other measurable resources. Perhaps your ideas don’t require any expenditures, and if so, you’re very lucky. It is important that you have the resources on hand to start implementing at this phase, especially if you have other people involved, who are very likely excited to see all these new ideas get implemented and would rather not wait. Trust me on this one; it can be a tricky one.

Step 5: Put Controls in Place. Once you’ve successfully implemented the changes, often you see the most dramatic results at first. Then the results taper off as you approach the fine-tuning phase of the process. Here is where you need to be the most careful about backsliding to the old ways of doing things. This is done by putting the right controls in place to help ensure that the new behavior “sticks”. Some examples of controls are check-sheets, after action review meetings (discuss what went well, what didn’t go well, and what will be done next). Have regular meetings to discuss and follow up on further areas for improvement.

Step 6: Celebrate. Now, its time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Change is difficult and you’ve earned it. Spoil yourself and your team after a job well done. This process can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months and its not easy, especially the first few times around. Here’s time for a pizza party, gift cards, or dinner on the organization for all the participants. Or depending on the size of the project, you might want to go above and beyond and give everyone trips to Hawaii. You might want to check your bank account and make sure the earnings are solid before you do anything rash.

These simple yet effective steps will make you excel time and time again. They are as easy or difficult as you make them. If you’re persistent, your team is accountable, and you’ve set the appropriate resources aside for the project to be successful, you will win. However, if you jump ahead in steps, ignore the data, or just use the wrong data from the start, your chances for success are slim. Its totally up to you.

Good Luck,

Calvin Williams

CEO – Excelville, LLC

This article and others like it can be found at http://www.excelville.com/pages/press

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