sigma favSix Sigma

5 Steps to Data Collection

By Ron Pereira Updated on September 15th, 2021

data collection

In most Six Sigma training programs and text books  you will hear about a 5 step data collection process.  However, what they don’t tell you is that 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.

The 5 Steps to Data Collection

Without further ado, here are the 5 steps to data collection, along with some commentary.

Step 1: Clarify your data collection goals

This sounds straight forward enough, but it 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.  This is especially true when 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.  Be sure to be clear about your purpose for data collection.

Step 2: Develop operational definitions and procedures

What are we measuring? How will it be measured? Who will measure it? Having clarity in these questions is of utmost importance. Often times we will employ sampling in which case we need to define a sampling plan.

Step 3: 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 who 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!

Step 4: 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.

Step 5: 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.

What’s Your Experience with Data Collection?

Tell us about your own data collection experiences.  Have you ever felt the frustration of being told to gather data without knowing the true purpose? Have you upset “gold standards” when true MSA is done? Let us know in the comments!

  1. rob

    May 31, 2007 - 8:34 pm

    Nice list Ron. I also find ascertaining the necessary statistical power of the test to be important as well: the probability that the test will reject a false null hypothesis.


  2. Ron

    June 1, 2007 - 1:53 am

    Excellent point on power Rob. I want to write about CI and all that fun stuff soon. Cheers!

  3. shirley Jaudalso

    July 15, 2008 - 9:40 pm

    good job! I’m looking an easy step to do data collection and I think you help me a lot.

  4. Dr. B. M. Afolabi

    January 28, 2010 - 7:44 am

    I am working on an M&E Plan for a West African country and your 5 Steps to Data Collection is so useful. However, kindly expatiate further on “Continue improving measurement system and ensure people are following the data collection guidelines.”

  5. Ron Pereira

    January 28, 2010 - 3:37 pm

    Thanks for the comment and question, Dr. Afolabi.

    This step basically means to always monitor the measurement system, including when people are involved, since “loose measurement systems” can create chaos for those attempting to solve problems. Why? Because no matter how many changes you make to the process… nothing will ‘seem’ to matter since your measurement system is the problem!

    Make sense?

  6. kefilwe

    July 29, 2010 - 12:32 pm

    working on my project at school, can u help me with simplified steps

  7. pascy

    October 5, 2010 - 11:55 am


  8. upendo

    February 14, 2011 - 3:41 am

    thanks very much, because you help me to know more about those steps but i am confused on the step number 3 and 5 i have not well understood those two steps.

  9. osorio paulo orlando sambo

    June 12, 2013 - 5:01 am

    i am at univesity and i have been doing many research works , a thesis and dissertation and these 5 steps helps my researches

  10. Abayateye Isaac

    October 3, 2020 - 3:21 pm

    Step by step data procedure through which data will be collected in qualitative research

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.