Is your organisation data blind?

To build and maintain a culture of continuous improvement, it is necessary to honestly evaluate process changes to see if they have resulted in an improvement. This is often done as part of Deming’s Plan Do Study Adjust (PDSA) cycle.

In some organisations where I have worked, there was pressure to prove that attempts at improvement had been successful. The pressure was sometimes so intense that it was virtually impossible to report anything other than a positive result. People felt pressurised to portray encouraging results instead of looking for proof of meaningful improvements. Data visualisations and scales would be optimised to favour the impression of improvement rather than a clear depiction of the actual reality.

These organisations had become data blind. Only favourable results were acceptable; they could not handle the truth. Anyone who dared to highlight the uncomfortable truth was regarded as naïve.

This data blindness can be combated by applying two simple rules.

  • If there is an intervention in a process, always clearly highlight it on the trend or process control chart. Show the exact point that the change was made.
  • Always show enough data before and after the change to demonstrate the average and variation in both periods.

Sticking to these rules in a data blind organisation can be challenging. People may consider you naive or a trouble maker. Stick to the truth and seek an accurate representation of the data by constantly asking for the two rules to be applied to every trend line you see.

If you insist on these rules within your organisation, you will transform yourself into someone who can represent data honestly. All organisations need someone who can tell them the data-based truth to accelerate learnings through the PDSA cycle.

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