Good Data – Bad Decisions

In the April 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Shvetank Shah, Andrew Horn and Jaime Capella argue that Good Data Won’t Guarantee Good Decisions.

I find that many Six Sigma teams get stuck on the idea of needing “good data.” They often get lost trying to collect “better” data. Unfortunately, even good data won’t guarantee a good decision. The authors note: “At this very moment, there’s an odds-on chance that someone in your organization is making a poor decision on the basis of information that was enormously expensive to collect.” Ouch!

The authors found that there are three main types of decision makers:

• Visceral (i.e., gut feel) decision makers

• Unquestioning Empiricists who rely on the numbers alone

• Informed Skeptics who combine their gut with data

The authors also say that “too many companies are stuck in the “expert” phase” (think Black Belts and Green Belts in Six Sigma). The knowledge of how to analyze the data hasn’t spread to the masses.

More and more I find that Black Belts have become the chart drawing masters of the corporation, but have been sidelined from improvements simply because line workers haven’t been taught how to use a tool like the QI Macros for Excel to draw their own charts.

Good Data is Hard to Find

The authors also found that less than half of employees know where to find the data they need to do any analysis. Some improvement teams get stuck waiting for IT to get the data into a central repository rather than collecting a little data manually to move their project forward.

Get the Right Tools

The authors also say that: “Having the right tools to create and interpret data displays is vital. Half of all employees find that information is in an unusable format. The best companies provide charts instead of raw data.”

I recently saw a wiki posting from a company trying to make do with one copy of expensive SPC software. Another large hotel chain told us they were only buying Six Sigma SPC software for their Black Belts.

How can you possible expect to expand beyond the “expert phase” if you don’t give employees the tools to do the analysis? How can you expect to implement the “C” in DMAIC without giving the employees tools to draw control charts and histograms of their own? Let’s get serious folks, are you trying to save a little money on software or trying maximize results from Six Sigma?

You can stop this insanity, but it’s up to you.

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