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Show Me The Data

I was giving a potted history of my working life to an undergraduate Engineer yesterday. After a few minutes I noticed the haunting theme that was running through my stories, about the need for good data to make informed decisions.

Like many things that become second nature, the use of good data is vital in most cases to determine how to approach an improvement opportunity within a business. It's where I try to start, although in many cases it is a case of gathering the data in the first place, rather than just tapping into a rich vein currently sitting there.

I should also state, at this point, that some businesses do have data for data's sake. Time wasted on recording information that will never be used is just that - a waste that the business could most likely do without.

Reflecting further on the need for good data I thought about a number of recent projects where data was vital:
  • The new factory layout that needed throughput data in order to calculate floor space requirements.
  • The 'time lost' information that informed us on how to change the shop floor support approach.
  • The justification for a new piece of equipment that (initially) no-one thought needed to be purchased.
  • Production volumes, allowing focus to be created on which products to streamline first.
  • Sales information, helping us choose which parts MRPII could manage for us automatically.
I'm sure you get the point. Good data is central to solid decision making and a lack of data can certainly stall the decision making process. That seems pretty obvious to most of us, if we don't know what to review and compare how can we be expected to make rational and well informed decisions.

Be economical with your data gathering though, good data is usually just a few steps away. Be clear about what you need and don't end up making a whole new job for yourself (or your team!) as data gatherers.

The summary of my talk with my Engineering friend, and the point of this blog post, is that good data is vital to decision making. If you don't have it, and need to make a decision soon, then it is worth investing the time to go and find it. 


Giles Johnston
...optimising MRP systems and re-engineering business processes