Collecting data is tricky. Many people think they can simply run off and grab some data, whip it into a spreadsheet, press some buttons and subsequently cure cancer. I wish it worked this way… but it doesn’t.
Generally, in most training programs and text books out there you will hear about a 5 step data collection process. I am not sure who first came up with these steps so if you do please leave a comment.
Here they are with my own commentary.
- Clarify your data collection goals. Sounds straight forward enough but is often overlooked. For example, what problem are you trying to solve by collecting this data? Many people grow frustrated when they are asked to collect data and are not even told why. Then, once this person has the data the person who asked for it in the first place can’t be bothered. You will lose any ounce of credibility you may have had if you take this approach.
- Develop operational definitions and procedures. Here we need to be very clear as to what we are measuring, how it is to be measured, and who is to measure it. Often times we will employ sampling in which case we need to define a sampling plan.
- Validate the measurement system. Good golly Ms. Molly is this step ever butchered by most people! True story… several years ago I was working with a supplier of my former company. They made plastic parts. They used this $300k “automated optical inspection” machine to measure critical “black diamond” dimensions. They wanted my help with running a DOE. I asked if a measurement system analysis had been done. They assured me the machine had been recently calibrated to the “gold standard.” I said, “that’s nice and have you done a MSA?” Long story short we did an MSA and learned that due to a programming issue (a topic for another blog) their measurement system was useless. They had been running like this for years supplying parts to a $50B market cap company and had no clue what dimensions these parts really were. Ouch. Moral of the story… confirm your measurement system!
- Begin data collection. Isn’t it funny how this 4th step of the 5 step process is where most people want to start? Using all the knowledge from the previous steps we now go off and collect our data.
- Continue improving measurement system and ensure people are following the data collection guidelines. Measurement systems need to be verified often. A good whack to a camera can really mess things up. Also, as with anything related to continuous improvement sustaining a process is the hardest part. Data collection is no different.