The advancement of technology of the years has put the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips. We can look up pretty much anything we want to know in a matter of seconds. Data systems have enabled us to see details of our businesses that we might not have researched in the past. We’re able to see and respond to changing conditions more quickly than ever before.
Technology Changes Behaviors
The ability to react quickly to changing conditions will always be important. The habit of reacting can create a response cycle that gets more and more out of control with each input. In aviation, this is called a pilot induced oscillation. The pilot sees the aircraft is losing a little bit of altitude and pulls up on the stick to correct the situation to back to straight and level flight. The aircraft begins to climb, but goes a little above the desired altitude, so the pilot pushes forward on the stick. Again, the aircraft starts to lose altitude, and this time loses more than the first time. Again the pilot pulls back on the stick and climbs faster and higher than the previous cycle. The cycle repeats and the pilot gets more and more out of control with each cycle.
It’s very easy to fall into the same trap with data. An automated report shows at a glance a particular aspect of the business is in the green. No action needed. Sooner or later, the report shows we’re in the yellow, so we react to get things back into the green. Once we’re in the green we say “Well done” and focus on other things. Later the system tells us we’re in the red, so we rally the troops and implement countermeasures to get back into the green. When we’re back in the green, we think our countermeasures worked, but have we really understood the problem?
Data Management Systems Aren’t Autopilot
The pilot induced oscillation in both scenarios occurred because no one was focused on the very small and subtle inputs to maintain straight and level flight. Such inputs require continuous understanding of the every changing current state. Sophisticated data systems can make it very easy to fall behind the curve.
Simple, Visual, Manual
Data management systems are incredibly valuable and I wouldn’t want to give mine up. At the same time, I could manage the business without it. Granted, business process would be slower and take more people. The important thing is that it could be done.
In my days in the police service, we’d practice the loss of the computer aided dispatch system (the ERP of the police world). The CAD would be shut off a few times per year to make sure we were proficient in exchanging information and providing services without technology.
At Gemba Academy, we don’t shut the system off, but we do manually manage transactions in order to gain a deeper understanding of our ever-changing current state. Our data management systems is the primary source of truth. From there we hand write transactional information onto our visual management board. The act of writing just a few words and figures presents some questions and answers others. It reveals what was otherwise unknown and allows us to take appropriate action before unwanted conditions present themselves.
Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive
In short, this helps us focus on the right things and think ahead of problems rather than simply responding to problems. It stops the pilot induced oscillation.