Making Sense of Data, Donald J. Wheeler

The chapter inspires me a lot. As a data professional, I believe in accurate measurements. We set metrics, KPI for our organizations to monitor how well our business performs. The metrics and KPI are usually result-oriented, for example, how many delinquency cases, how much time spent on processing each application. While those numbers are essential, merely focusing on results may have some negative consequences. For example, departments will start to massage the data to “make their numbers”; blaming other departments or people. And the more serious problem is managing by results do not encourage corporation between departments. Because they are encouraged to make their number (e.g. costs, time, profit), they tend to think in terms of their department’s goal. This takes precedence over the needs of the company and the needs of the customer.

This endless game of “making your numbers” leads to a “cover your anatomy” mentality in which they need to survive the internal competition becomes dominant, taking precedence over the needs of the company and the needs of the customer.

Chapter one of Making Sense of Data

The author said that the better way to simultaneously increase quality, boost productivity, and ensure an advantageous competitive position does not consist of managing by results. Instead, it focuses on the processes and systems that generate the outcomes. My own interpretation of this philosophy is that you need to understand the causes/ reasons to achieve great results. And the name of this philosophy is Continual Improvement.

By focusing on the process and system, the author said it encourages cooperation instead of competition between departments. Although it seems that the author did not elaborate much on this argument, I generally agree with his point of view since process and system will surely involve more than one department. If you are to improve the process and system, you have to work with other departments.

The book, is therefore, about the methodology of studying processes and systems.

The author also defines what is quality. The author does not agree quality is about “fitness to use”, “zero defects” etc. Instead, he believes quality is a never-ending cycle of improving, gradually over a period of time, their products, their processes, and their organization by starting from where they are now.

Finally, the author points out that there are three questions that need to be answered before real improvements can be made: What do you want to accomplish? By what method? How will you know? The last two questions are usually the hard ones.

Now, I am particularly interested in how to study a process and a system using data. And how focusing on the process will provide good results in the end.

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