If you haven’t been following it, the discussion about the data shuffle has been continuing over at LinkedIn.

Laura Wright posted a comment yesterday:

Is there SOME value to the ‘data shuffle’? E.g., deep knowledge that can help the green or black belt discern nuances to their process analysis that otherwise wouldn’t be had…and so a better solution comes to light? Don’t get me wrong – I do believe data shuffle is wasteful…but some fruit can be gleaned from the exercise.

I think this is a great question, and I agree with her comment. But I also wanted to push the topic out a little further.

I was still trying to formulate a response when Terri Jostes weighed back in with a comment that said what I wanted to say far better than I could have:

I agree with Laura in that there is no substitute for an intimate knowledge of your data. Understanding where it came from, what it means and the process used to acquire the data is absolutely critical. But after that’s been figured out, a mechanism for streaming process data to managers and process improvement experts has to be put in place to free your belts from the ongoing task of “cleaning up” the data or linking files from multiple databases so it can be used.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to point out that Terri is a former user of GainSeeker Suite. She comes to this after having lived with the data shuffle and found a different way of life. Actually some years ago I wrote up a case study about the experience of an unnamed Master Black Belt (who I just ‘outed’) at a financial services firm. Here is a link to read the case study, Building a Six Sigma Measurement System in Financial Services. At the end of the case study is a section on Lessons Learned, and the first lesson addressed this very point. Here is an excerpt:

Upstream manual data collection – According to the MBB who led the cycle-time-reduction initiative, the initial effort of capturing data manually first paid huge dividends as the deployment progressed. By engaging in manual data collection, the MBB was able to gain valuable insight into the nuances of the various operational definitions used by the process owners, and in the way the information system supported or did not support those definitions.

While an automated system has proved invaluable for collecting and analyzing massive amounts of transactional data, it is essential to develop an intimate, hands-on relationship with data in order to understand the system that produced it. This principle applies to any initiative or project that is focused on deriving long-term, leveraged benefit from an automated measurement system.

This lesson was reinforced later when the MBB implemented a similar measurement system in another part of the business. In this second application, she believed she knew enough about the system to go straight to automated data collection, but she discovered that there was no shortcut to forming a thorough understanding of the data by collecting it manually first. The second application took far longer to deploy, with many more false starts before realizing success.

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