Over at the LinkedIn Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma & Lean Group, I posted a discussion question that generated some great responses. Here was my original question:

Lean Six Sigma practitioner’s ad hoc data survey
Recently I was talking with a black belt who told me “I know exactly what you mean by the data shuffle. Three hours of my 13 hour day yesterday were spent doing the shuffle.”

The data shuffle is all the compiling, massaging, and manipulating data that you do to get something useful so that you can make meaningful business decisions.

My experience is that all that busy work undermines the cultural transformation that is needed in Lean Six Sigma deployments. In other words, if data were easier to get to, the corporate culture would be more apt to make data driven decisions.

I have a couple of blog posts on the topic.

For an example of the data shuffle, see http://hertzler.com/2008/12/doing-the-data-shuffle/

For more background on the relationship between data and cultural transformation, see http://hertzler.com/2009/03/hitting-my-forehead-with-the-palm-of-my-hand/

Is the data shuffle alive and well at your organization?
How much time do you spend doing the data shuffle for your projects?
Does the data shuffle undermine cultural transformation?

Here are excerpts from some of the responses:

From Shaun Wurzner:

Regrettably, [Six Sigma] arrived at a point where managers and business leaders had to demonstrate Six Sigma improvements and for fear of at best, never being promoted or at worst, being let go…. Incorporating the fear of employment with continuous improvement was in my opinion, a disastrous train wreck. As a result, managers (and I AM GENERALIZING) felt compelled to generate data to show improvement. Regrettably, the more paperwork and reports, the better chance of being viewed as a valuable results oriented contributor…

To tie back into Evan’s original question, another fundamental requirement of Six Sigma was the ability to access data to characterize process, identify sources of variation, and drive process improvement through various means… The ability to capture timely data continues to be one of the fundamental issues that challenges companies and practitioners alike…. I can tell you that so many companies drive their business without fundamental data collection and analyze tools. As an example, how many times have you seen someone apply an algorithm to a data set without checking it for normality and these are statisticians or quality “experts”. Not to fault them, but everyone is so preoccupied with the end results that they by-pass some of the fundamentals.

This is a powerful indictment: “Managers feel compelled to generate data to show improvement.” Wow.

But why should we be surprised? It is entirely consistent with Deming’s 14 Points, especially #8 (Drive out Fear.), #10 (Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force.), and #11 (Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force and numerical goals for management.)

Maybe it is time to dust off your 1982 edition of Deming’s “Out of the Crisis”. We did not learn those lessons well.

And from Terri Jostes:

The 7 types of waste are now known as the “7 +1” or 8 types of waste with the addition of “Creativity” or “Human Potential” as the 8th type of waste. All the wasted effort of overprocessing, rework and motion (in the form of moving data from one database to another) associated with the “data shuffle” causes our intelligent, highly trained, well-paid green belts and black belts to spend countless hours in unproductive, frustrating activity.

Why do companies allow this to happen? In some companies, it is seen as a rite of passage for a belt or a necessary, if unsavory, part of the job. Some belts even like doing this type of work – they’re good at it! Of course they are…they spend a lot of time doing it!

Evan’s right…It’s time to be strategic about our data gathering, compilation and analysis. In order to create a “data driven” culture, clean, reliable data has to be readily available to all levels of the organization. Letting the “data shuffle” continue in our organizations guarantees lost opportunity in our improvement activities and operational performance.

I love that idea: “Rite of passage.” Did you have to go through this rite? What is your story?

And from Forrest Breyfogle:

Evan, you indicated that the data shuffle is all the compiling, massaging, and manipulating data that you do to get something useful so that you can make “meaningful business decisions.” If the result was to make meaning business decisions that would be one thing and would be waste in that the analysis was not performed efficiently. However, it appears to me that the problem is worse in that often there is playing games with the numbers to make a situation appear better than it is… We need to blend analytics usage within an overall business governance system.

Excellent point: This isn’t just an efficiency issue; we need better governance. Can better data help that?

And from Terry Burton:

Today’s turbulent economy requires much more targeted Lean and Six Sigma efforts that produce an accelerated level of tangible results. That means a rapid and perfected “value-added” execution. We need to stop the data shuffle, and the training of the masses and put the money on the table – Or it’s all just another bandwagon! Too many organizations are stuck on this”mad belt” and “data shuffle” mode with their Lean and Six Sigma deployments.

One of the largest inefficiences we observe that compounds the data shuffle is that people are using multiple versions of the truth (facts). This is prevalent in organizations where the formal enterprise system has broken down, or where people struggle with their own personalized kluge spreadsheets to get (data shuffle) the facts. Some people tend to grab and shuffle the data that is available, rather than think through the specific data elements needed to solve the problem.

Think about the obvious. Not only are these folks inefficient due to data shuffling, but they all have different versions of the facts when they’re done! Now this leads to the wrong actions and firefighting, and the data shuffle becomes a viscious cycle. Their organizations would be better off if they made their “data shufflers” sit there and do nothing! Unfortunately, these organizations are not improving at the rate of the economy so despite all the belts, they are falling behind.

The largest challenge with Lean and Six Sigma is quickly thinking through and acquiring the right data to make the right decisions and get the right results. Some of our clients have reached this “utopia:” Real-time, visual event-driven metrics, a single version of the facts, decide-act-measure in real time. Based on true potential, we see that well over 80% of Lean and Six Sigma deployments are failing. People are hanging up the window dressing and getting their belts, there’s a lot of data shuffling and charts, but cultural transformation is not happening.

This economic meltdown is a great opportunity to rethink the “what’s” and “how’s” of your Lean and Six Sigma deployments and shift into a higher gear of new results.

Important concept: “A single version of the truth.” This reminds me of a conversation I had with a test engineer at an audio amplifier company who told me “In the past, if I wanted that data, I had to go mine it myself… People would be reasonably questioning my political motives for saying ‘We had 94% first pass yield last week. Now we have this standard called Hertzler, and you can go get the same data I just got…”

And from David Back:

I can only echo the points made and pass on some of my experience with management teams. Management by facts is a major change for many leaders and it is far more than setting up data cemeteries and then having specialist analysts or Belts providing insight in parallel to routine business processes. Managers need to buy in to the strategic nature of the change and be equipped with the clear concepts to act in this way. The size of this step is generally underestimated, old habits die hard ! It falls to all of us that understand this issue to promote the change at every possible opportunity.

“Data cemeteries…” What a great term.

And from Ken Place:

Although I agree that “the data shuffle” is a problem, I see more instances where data is just not available, what is available cannot be used, and new or additional data collection activity is required before an effective Lean or Six Sigma effort can/should even begin. As a Master Black Belt, many of my Black Belt students come to the first week of class ready to hit the ground running with a project. When we discuss the details of “Good” data they realize that they must return to square one and generate some history of the current state before progressing. Rather than massage the data to make it useful I find they must disregard current data and re-collect. Clearly non-value added but seldom fixed at the root of the problem, The Business Management System (BMS). In my opinion the BMS, formerly known as the QMS, should be designed with the correct, robust metrics in place for each process. Those metrics should reflect the health of each process as it contributes to the system, so that a company is able to asses where their next opportunity for continuous improvement exists. Without ongoing correct measures of at least efficiency and effectiveness, projects are not properly prioritized and work cannot begin right away. Yes metrics should be strategically established and available at any time for accurate monitoring, measuring and continuous improvement efforts.

At the risk of over-simplyfying, build the measurement system and the the rest will be easier.

What do you think? Is the data shuffle alive and well at your organization? How much time do you spend doing the data shuffle for your projects? Does the data shuffle undermine cultural transformation? You can leave a comment, tweet me, schedule a conversation, or call 800-958-2709.

One Comment

  1. six sigma green belt June 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    This is a great discussion regarding the time required to go through data and the opportunity cost. It would seem if there were a better enterprise architecture setup to collect data then the process would go much more smoothly.

    Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate Program at the University of St. Thomas.

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