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If A Tree Falls And No One Hears It April 3, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Quality.
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Every day I receive at least a half-dozen reports by email, typically numbers in spreadsheets that might mean something to someone somewhere, but not necessarily to me. I’ve decided to investigate because I’m concerned that we have people spending time obediently writing these reports without adding any value to the business. I want to keep an open mind, but I have my doubts because some of these reports don’t seem to be tied to any of our business prioirites or the KPIs that I’ve assigned to the team.

The first thing I’m going to is talk to the people who receive the reports to find out if they’re reading them at all. If the audience isn’t taking the time to read it, then why are we assigning people to write it? To be fair, that could be either a relevancy problem or a performance problem, depending on whether the report is linked to a business priority. If the report isn’t relevant, then let’s phase it out. If it is relevant but not being read, then I need to help the team understand why they should care.

The next question I’m going to ask is: “What, if anything, are we doing about the data in the reports?” Are we taking any action? Is there a goal or a control limit that determines whether this data set is a matter of concern? Is is it clear who is responsible for investigating or taking action if the numbers start trending the wrong way? The reports may be widely recognized as relevant, but their value is limited without an understanding of what action is required and who should manage it.

The last question I’m going to ask is whether the report frequency makes sense. Do we have to do this report daily, or can weekly or even monthly be sufficient? There are dangers in over-sampling, which can lead to over-reacting and micromanaging based on a false signal. This gets to process control theory and whether the most recent data set represents a statistically significant difference from the previous data set. The answer depends on each day’s sample size and population, and I’ll refer to my statistics text book for the appropriate hypothesis test methodology.

This may take awhile, but I expect that we will end up with some cost savings due to irrelevant reports, more accountability for taking action based on the reports, and more focus on data-driven business priorities. Stay tuned.

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