A friend recently sent me a link to a LA Times op-ed piece that used Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game as a data collection object lesson. This was of interest to me because I was a big Koufax fan (the only time I ever cut class was to watch him pitch his gem against the Minnesota Twins in the ’65 World Series) and I have an interest in data as it relates to the world of FM. The article is both enjoyable and informative, and makes a couple of points relevant to those of us who collect, analyze, or use data.
You can never have too much data
Often people choose not to collect certain bits of data because they do not have or know of a current need for it. As the author points out, however, we sometimes later wish we had data that we could have had if only we had collected it. With new analysis systems and protocols we can learn things from old data that help us today. The example he uses in the article is how collecting additional pitch count data changed the way pitchers are used, thus extending their careers and value. This data always existed but was not collected prior to the 1980's. The potential benefit of the data existed but was unrealized because it had not been collected.
Investigating old data can lead to new learning, which in turn results in improved operations and services. Our FM group is a case in point. For years we have been collecting and using data on the full spectrum of services and operations. We collect much more data than we analyze or report, but when we need it, it is there. For example, we have millions of lines of BMS data which allows us to conduct rigorous analysis and troubleshooting when needed. The point is that we did not have a specific need for the data when we started collecting it. We just did because we could. Now, having that data available opens the door to important insights. It allows us to investigate root causes, to map relationships among various indices, and to gain valuable knowledge and wisdom that contribute to improved designs and process modifications.
Home run or hit-and-run?
Some baseball fans love the power game, as evidenced by the popularity and predominance of power hitters. Others enjoy the nuance of the tactical game. In the business of process improvement, however, the advantage goes to the tactical, the nuanced changes. In business it is rare that you can achieve a large and dynamic change, a “homerun” that dramatically improves operations. It is much more likely that improvements will be incremental with accumulated effect over time, much like a single, hit-and-run, stolen base and sacrifice fly will result in a run scored. None of these represent a run by themselves but each is a key part of the sequence that produces in the end. Would you rather take a big swing with lower odds of success, or spend the time to gain clarity and swing at exactly the right spot, at exactly the right time, with exactly the right force? The answer is obvious, isn’t it?
Foresight and imagination enable discovery
Understanding at the earliest stages of a data collection project that you do not and cannot know how that data may eventually be used is an important point. It allows you to take a wider approach to collection and a more diligent approach to the care of your data, and suggests a healthy inquisitiveness and respect for the unknown that lies in the future. Data that has been diligently collected over time can be synthesized to investigate specific issues and discern patterns, leading to understanding and improvement. This may come in the form of a revised process or identification of a problem or opportunity. Regardless, the result is improvement.
Finally, understand that data survives individual systems. Systems come and go. They become obsolete and get replaced, or a new vendor may bring a new system into your operation. Regardless, the data is tangible, it is yours, and it is a hard asset. Treat it that way both in how you care for it and how you protect your legal ownership rights to it.
Take care of your data, and your data will take care of you.