We seem to place a lot of importance on data (numbers, charts, graphs, etc.) these days. We tend make many decisions by comparing numbers and graphs from spreadsheets or charts. We ask ourselves, “What does it show me today?” Or sometimes, we look for what we want it to show us. We ask the data to help us prove our point.
Is data enough to tell us what’s going on, or what may happen? What do the numbers really mean? What do the charts and graphs really show? Should we just make our decisions based on data?
There may be more than meets the eye when it comes to numbers, pie charts or graphs. We should always step back and take another look at the intent and purpose of the data we are gathering. Following are a few good questions from the Root Cause Analysis Blog to help keep us on track when using data in our decision-making equation:
- Where did the numbers come from?
- What were the numbers originally designed to measure?
- Are these numbers the same set of behaviors and tasks or are they independent?
- Were the numbers created with limited bias and not driven by a reward or discipline factor?
- Are these numbers occurring frequently or is this intermittent and infrequent data?
- Finally, do you understand your numbers and does the boss know what the numbers mean when you show the charts and trends or lack of trends?
Using data can help us make more effective and efficient decisions, but the quality of those decisions is based on the first step: defining the problem to be solved. Data helps us ask the right questions; it does not provide the answers. We should use data for what it is, a part of the decision-making equation combined with listening to the input from the people on the front lines, the most important part of the decision equation.
Making decisions based on data is very common for all of us. But does the data tell us everything? Does the data show all of the variables or impact on the organization, process, or our people? What is our purpose for collecting the data and how do we intend to use it? How do we conclude that the decisions made were effective and efficient for the people, the organization, and our purpose?
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