5 Steps to Data Collection

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  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.  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!
  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.
  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.


  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