Data Gathering – Small Data not Big Data

Lean organizations live by their data.  Up-to-date and accurate data is critically important. And this data must be relevant, meaningful, and empowering the value stream people. At all levels people in a lean organization need information immediately to control, complete, and improve their work, to support FLOW, and provide excellent value to the customers. 

In reality, Lean organizations are laser-focused on “small data” rather than “big data.”  One thing Lean companies do is build excellent control into their processes.  Control, then, comes because the people in the process are constantly tracking their own work. When things go wrong they identify the causes and solve the problems themselves. Much of this data recording is done by hand and is displayed visibly, so everyone who needs to, can see what’s going on and what’s being done about it. 

Control of any business process is a human activity. 10 Data Gathering rev03-DBTH Chart In Lean we design the fewest possible measurements then we put the responsibility for care, feeding and uses of our measurement data with the front line workers in the factory, the office, the emergency room, software lab, sales office, bank, or school.   For example, here’s a typical hand done “Day by the Hour” chart  designed for use in the Shipping Cell of this business.  It’s a good example, because it shows that problems were detected early in the shift, remediation was tried in the 3rd hour, problems continued, and by mid-day, a meeting was called to address the issue. This is what I mean by “small” data, , immediately available. [i]

Lean companies also recognize that entering transactions into a system is non-value-added work. So why do it? Does feeding the ERP beast in the computer room provide your customers with better service, fewer defects, better cost?  The reason many companies use complex tracking systems is that they believe doing so let’s them see what’s happening (even if it’s after the fact) and have the  illusion of  control.  In reality, for non-lean companies, a lot of processes are out-of-control.  If your operational processes are out-of-control then you can create a semblance of control by using a thorough, transaction-based control system like MRP/ERP style systems.

Lean companies take the opposite view. Instead of adding a complicated, confusing, and time-consuming system into their processes – they focus on the causes and root causes so they can bring their processes under control through continuous improvement. This requires well trained, lean-thinking people – and SMALL DATA every day.

In Part Two we will look at WHY processes get out-of-control and how to fix it.

10 Data Gathering Table


[i]  More on the “Small Data “idea.  Small data doesn’t mean no data!  At the end of the shift, day, week, etc., these charts should be collected, analyzed, trends and patterns, root causes, etc. identified, and permanent remedial measures put in place.