Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Change and Data

It takes me a little by surprise how often I talk with people who are trying to make a change but who have no idea how to go about accomplishing it. Invariably, they aren't nearly as successful as they would like and I blame it squarely on their lack of deliberation.

If you want to improve something, you first need to know what the current situation is like. Let's say you make tires and you think you'd like to make 5 more tires per week. If you are only making 10 tires a week, then expecting to make 5 more might be totally unrealistic. Similarly, if you are making 5000 per week, why would adding 5 be such a challenge? Figuring out the current situation requires some kind of measurement. You have to count something; you have to quantify some aspect of what you want to change.

Believe it or not, figuring out what to measure is the hardest part of the whole improvement process. If you serve meals in a restaurant, it is useful to know how many people you served. But it is more helpful for efficiency to know how long it took you to serve them. If it is satisfaction you are after, measuring how long people had to wait for a table is more influential than just knowing how many people waited.

Similarly, it isn't always just about measuring one thing. It is about measuring the relationship between the many things that make up the process or behavior you are trying to change. If you don't start to beak out why the measurements are turning out the way they are, you won't necessarily be able to extrapolate what any particular change might do to the measurements in the future.

If you want to change something, start by measuring. Once you know what to measure, ask why the measurements have turned out that way. Only then can you start to theorize about the impact of a potential change. Often it is while figuring out the why that you come across new ideas for how to change the what as well. As you propose and then implement changes, having a process in place to measure will give you the feedback you need to see if your changes are having the desired effect. This feedback loop is how change become more than just a one-time event. Adding this consistent loop of measuring, analyzing, hypothesizing, changing, and then repeating is what drives effective change. Without the measuring you don't know where you are starting from and therefore you'll probably not realize when you will arrive or recognize that you'll never arrive. You'll be one of those people always busy with activity but not making any progress.