I think it is time we had a serious talk about data.
Data can make or break a company. It can tell someone exactly where they are, how they are functioning, why they are functioning at the level that they are as well as what processes, flows, agendas they need to change.
With proper data usage and reading, meetings can be shortened and eliminated to make way for better use of time, it makes better use of employees managing their projects and teams, and leads to better understanding of all parties how the company is functioning on a macro and micro level.
The industry I am in there are buzz words that signify efficiency:
All very great qualities and traits for manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and supply chain to have. It is important for everything to have a place to minimize time lost. It is important workstations to flow in such a manner that workers are able to work at optimal proficiency. Organization on the floor is vital and necessary.
But can we have a serious conversation about why we have photographic maps of where a broom needs to be hung up but we don’t treat the life line of a company, the data itself, in the same manner?
We have all probably seen it, upon opening the network server there are red bars signifying that there is a bunch of stuff. And this stuff can be the milk and honey for a company. You know, like this:
But that stuff is not organized. It’s file after file, work sheet (not workbook, work sheet), save upon save of stuff.
Businesses focus so much on organization of the warehouse or manufacturing floor – I’m serious – one place I contracted at had outlines for their pencil holders, where scissors were supposed to go, as well as labeling for various print functions – which is fine. But when it came to their data, there was so much of it they literally could not find what they needed nor did they know what to do with it; and that is not a functional business, that is not an optimal business, that is not a business that is ready for change or ahead of the game – generally those that cannot organize what needs to be measured will ultimately fail when it comes to being proactive. Not that their business will fail, but it is almost always caught in this endless loop of being reactive to change, reactive problems, reactive to customer needs. There is not a clear defined path because, as stated, there is no organization of measurement, and you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
Many times I’ve seen it where there is lots of hope. We hope to get a handle on this, we hope to get this organized, we hope that we can pull this off, we hope, we hope, we hope. Hope may work for Star Wars, but it does not in manufacturing.
So let me just get this out of the way, ahem, repeat after me:
Hope is not a strategy. Data is numbers, and numbers have no emotion.
The good news is, if you are a company that has file upon file saved it means you have data. This is good, you have your greatest weapon right at your fingertips – now what do you do?
How do I organize this?
Which is a great place to start; but lets be honest – this is going to take some time and probably some work from team members.
Treat this opportunity like an actual six sigma project.
Gather all your teams together and figure out a flow chart of who puts what data where, why do they put it there, and what does that data mean to the company?
Once a trend is set, it will be easier to figure out how to organize that data. Take it one folder/process/entity/however your business is set up at a time.
If there is a folder that says “REJECTED PALLETS”, and once clicked on it, none of them are named the same way, there are pallets dating back to 2010, and it looks like it is systematically dumped in there – it is time to question why this process exists, is there an easier way to store this, and if the data is this much, would it be worth storing in a database than in a file folder?
The one issue with data and how a company stores all of its records is that it becomes easier to put it somewhere without actually thinking about it. It becomes a disengaged practice. Someone might be able say where something is stored, but they cannot say why and they cannot say how it is measured, if it is measured and who is ultimately responsible for it.
More often than not, we hear this phrase: “This is the way we have always done it.” And everyone points, clicks, and forgets about it.
Be intentional with your information.
Another issue I’ve encountered: if there is a problem, someone will build a spread sheet. It is inevitable.
Instead of asking how a certain problem is feeding from another process or where this is falling into, a spreadsheet is drawn up and everyone is asked to contribute to it.
The problem is, with time, there will be 16 different spreadsheets going, 5 that are obsolete, 8 that are redundant, and 3 that could probably be wrapped into one entity.
This is why dashboards are super handy (and I will start a series on dashboards and how to manage them later); but to have functional, interactive dashboards, one has to know how their data is managed and stored and then organize it –so that when an issue arises, instead of saying “let’s make a spreadsheet” you can be proactive and say, “what is our data showing?” And adjust accordingly.
80% of a company’s problems has a 20% cause, chances are, your data is already telling you what’s wrong or where a certain issue is heading – trust it.
Be purposeful with what you are asking your employees to measure; do not stick a band aid on a bullet wound and expect that just because something is now being accounted for that it is actually doing a service for your information.
The better managed your data, the better proactive measures can be taken. Carly Fiorina, former executive, president and chair of Hewlett-Packard once said, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”
Data and information is not something to be scared of, the disorganization and mismanagement of it is. It is like being handed a powerful weapon without an instruction booklet but being asked to operate it anyway.
In the coming days I am going to break this down further into where the data industry is heading, why it matters in logistics and supply chain, how to store your data, how to interpret your data, as well as dashboard building and how companies are using BIG DATA to build their business in such a proactive measure they are ready for the future before the future arrives (Tesla, XPO and Amazon all come to mind with this.)