Problem Solving Part 1: Data Gathering

Problem Solving Part 1: Data Gathering


Three weeks ago I started a series on problems solving. Where have the weeks gone. Unfortunately, life happens and I was not able to remain consistent in my blog writing. But, I am back to continue discussion on this series.

This week we look at the first step in problem solving – gathering data. This might seem like a simple task, but in reality it can be very complicated. First, we have to decide what the right method is for gathering the data we wish to collect.

When we are facing a problem it is easy to just want to tackle the issue and go after everything that seems like a cause. You might call a meeting a brainstorm, or just get a bunch of opinions and take a shotgun approach in trying to resolve the problem. But it is a much smarter path to take the time to gather data and ensure that you are going after the right things.

MRP Systems

The first place to gather data may be a management information system (MIS) or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. If the data to the problem you are looking to solve is available in these systems it makes the tasks much easier. Often you can run a report to gather the specific data you wish to collect and put that data into a spreadsheet where it can be categorized and sorted. Then you can share this data with your team to put together some action plans to address the possible root causes.

Often though data gathering isn’t nearly that easy. Too often the problems we face come out of the blue and systems have not been developed to collect the data ahead of time in order to help troubleshoot problems as they arise. Or, you simple aren’t sure what the root causes are and do not know what data will lead you to the root cause.

Get to the Floor

When this is the case we have to look for other means to gather data. One technique is to put up a white board at the source where the issues are occurring to collect data in real-time as it happens. I would generally collect as much data as possible over a minimum of two weeks in order to give a wide enough sample to give valid data. Longer is better, but often when problems are occurring we need to resolve them as quickly as possible so we don’t have time to collect as much data as we would like.

You can also use technology and set up a spreadsheet where people can enter data as problems arise to get as full a picture of the situation as possible to help to identify the root cause.

First things First

Generally, I find that the simplest route to data collection is best. Give people whatever method is easiest for them to record problems. However, you collect data two items are most important – getting live data, and getting accurate data.

Yes, you could have a meeting and get everybody involved to brainstorm root cause but my belief is that the best way to gather data is where and when the problem is occurring. This will give the best and most reliable data.

My suggestion is to gather all your data first. Categorize it, analyze it, and then get your team together to discuss the root cause and possible solutions. If you brainstorm before you have collected the data, in real-time where it is happening, you are merely guessing.

Do the hard work of data collection ahead of time – and even though you may not feel like you have time to collect data, take the time. In the long run it will save you time and frustration to chase the right causes rather than chasing assumptions and guesses.

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