Where to Start with Data Quality

Where to Start with Data Quality

Guest writer Sara Hanks builds our foundational knowledge with her blog post on data: “Where to Start with Data Quality.”

Fall is my favorite season for two reasons – beautiful scenery and the National Football League. This year, I joined a fantasy football league for the first time. The league uses the ESPN fantasy football app, which is great because it contains analytics that make it easy for a novice like me. Each week, my team is matched up with another and there is a predicted outcome for each player as well as the team overall. I can use the predictions to decide who to bench or trade. This is possible because there is a ton of high-quality data that feeds the algorithm.

According to Joseph Juran, quality means “fitness for use.” According to Philip Crosby, it means “conformance to requirements.” Data quality encompasses both definitions – it needs to be able to provide insights to make decisions real-time. Here are 10 elements to consider with data quality:

  1. Accuracy – the data needs to be correct
  2. Complete – the data does not have missing values
  3. Consistent – the data needs to be defined the same across all IT systems
  4. Valid – the format of the data needs to match the data structure, such as a date field
  5. Singular – the data should not be duplicated
  6. Seamless – the data needs to move from one system to another without compromise
  7. Repeatable – if two people are recording data, they both record the same thing.
  8. Preserved – the data needs to be retained according to the retention policies
  9. Compliant – the data needs to adhere to privacy laws, and internal policies
  10. Accessible – the data needs to be democratized in a way that people can consume it, according to their skillset.

To achieve a high level of data quality, the data needs to have a clear owner. The owner is most likely responsible for executing the process. For example, the customer information is owned by the sales team, and the supplier data is owned by the purchasing team. The IT team must support the data owners because they can ensure that there are proper controls in place to detect issues with moving and storing the data.

Getting started with a data quality plan can be overwhelming, so it is best for businesses to prioritize the data first. I recommend starting with the fundamental, foundational data for your business. I like to consider this data the cost of doing business and understand that data quality is just as necessary as closing the books at the end of the month. The next area I recommend tackling is all the data used to generate operational KPIs. Finally, focus on the data necessary for transformation efforts.

Once the scope of the data quality plan is set, it is good to create a baseline of the data quality. An audit of the data can help data owners understand the baseline. The audit is a deep dive into a sample of the data to get a representation of the overall data. During the data audit, the data owner will need to get hands on with the data, as well as interview people to understand the accuracy of the data. At the end of the audit, create a metric around how much of the data is considered defective. The audit findings facilitate recommendations and plans to improve the data quality.

At a minimum, the data quality plan must include a process around ensuring new data is created with high quality. The process needs to define who has authority to create the data, and it needs to define the process to update data.  

Improving data quality takes time and resources, so start small and drive incremental improvements over time.

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Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste

Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste

Guest writer Sara Hanks takes readers through the process of finding solutions that work for a team in “Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste.”

Although it has been 15 years, I remember the day clearly. It was my first opportunity to participate in a manufacturing Kaizen event, facilitated by a Japanese Sensei consultant. 20+ participants were divided into smaller teams of 4-5 people, with each team focusing on an area of the shop. I was selected as the team captain, as I was the most vocal person. After a couple days of analyzing the waste associated with the current state, we were instructed to identify solutions. I shared my perfect idea for a solution and the team agreed with the recommendation. My competitive side wanted to be the first team to accomplish the task, so I was relieved that the team was onboard. 

The Sensei, along with the leaders, would spend time visiting each team. When they stopped to check in with our team, I proudly shared our perfect solution. The Sensei was not happy, and I was mortified to be corrected in front of my leaders. He explained the 7 Ways Idea Generation methodology and requested that we return to brainstorming. My team generated 6 more ideas and used criteria such as impact and effort to down select to a single idea. It turned out that my perfect idea was not the final decision of the team.  

Hey, failure is one of the best instructors! While I learned a few things that day, the most important lesson was the power of divergent thinking. Specifically, divergent thinking from a diverse group of individuals will create the best solutions. In my process mapping and continuous improvement action workouts, I use creative thinking exercises, silent brainstorming, and an evaluation process to select the best solutions. 

Leveraging Creative Thinking for Developing Solutions 

“It turns out that creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few—it’s a natural part of human thinking and behavior. In too many of us it gets blocked. But it can be unblocked. And unblocking that creative spark can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organization, and your community.”

Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All 

When it comes to solutions, we tend to default to the ideas that have already existed. It’s hard to think outside of the box and be innovative because people tend to stop at the obvious solution. Introducing unrelated, creative exercises into an action workout can unlock creative thinking and help create new ideas. One of my favorite ways to spark creative thinking is to solution the worst possible idea first. Creating the worst idea does two things: 1) removes barriers by allowing the craziest of ideas to exist and 2) loosen up the team and help them feel more comfortable brainstorming ideas. 

There are several exercises available on the internet, so I recommend selecting 1-2 that fit within the context of the solution building. A coloring activity may not work for a meeting that is conducted virtually, for example. Once you’ve warmed up the group using one of these exercises, brainstorm solutions. 

Silent Brainstorming for Idea Generation Equality 

Silent brainstorming is used to generate ideas individually, while everyone is quiet. Participants can think without distractions or influence from other people. Groupthink is avoided and everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the solution. If the group is in a conference room or other common area, sticky notes are a good place to record ideas. Limit one idea per sticky note. If the group is located remotely, then ideas can be written down digitally. Remember the intent is to brainstorm without sharing, so make sure the ideas are captured locally vs. a shared platform. I recommend at least 30 minutes of brainstorming to ensure people can think their ideas through. After the silent brainstorming is completed, everyone can share their ideas with the larger group. As the team shares ideas, similar solutions emerge, which can be combined into single solutions. Once the solutions are identified, it is time to down select the idea. 

Selecting the Best Solution 

Selecting the best solution can be done a few different ways. Here are three examples:

  1. Impact – Effort matrix: the ideas are plotted on a grid. The ideas in quadrant 1 are no-brainers and the ideas in quadrant 3 can be discarded. The others are open to discussion.
  2. Voting: with voting, each person receives 7-10 votes. A person can use all their votes on a single idea or spread them across multiple solution ideas. Voting should be silent to prevent groupthink, as with silent brainstorming. The ideas with the most votes are selected for implementation. If the cost to implement the solutions vary, I recommend taking the top ideas and assessing them in an impact – effort matrix. 
  3. Assessing each solution against a set of predefined criteria. The criteria can include impact and effort but are expanded to assess other requirements. Safety, compliance, security, and quality may be included. Typically, the criteria are defined up front in the project charter as critical to quality items, benefits, or both. For each idea, score the idea against the criteria – I prefer a 1, 3 9 scale to differentiate the most applicable items. The total score for each idea is calculated – the highest scored ideas should be implemented.

After the solution(s) are selected for implementation, create a set of action items, owners, and dates for the critical next steps. Schedule follow-up meetings to ensure the actions are closed and identify any unforeseen roadblocks. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy implementing the innovative solutions that you and the team created!

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Process Mapping Blog

Process Mapping Blog

Guest writer Sara Hanks helps us with a key detail for continuous improvement in her “Process Mapping Blog” today.

Continuous improvement in an organization requires implementing projects. Projects also mean change, which is often met with resistance. In the early stages of a project, I recommend using process mapping to facilitate effective change management.

In one of my first IT projects, I was creating an inspection software for manufacturing quality. The project was significantly delayed, and the former project manager had left the company. To create something quickly, I deployed an off-the-shelf software. Completing the inspection plan turned out to be a giant pain and added significant cycle time. A year later, we ended up redesigning the entire inspection software after so many complaints from the users. It was not worth trading off an understanding the current state process for the speed of implementation. I should have known better, after many years of training and practicing lean at GE. 

When lean was a corporate initiative at GE, the business planned large transactional lean events to conduct process maps in a session that was sponsored by senior leadership. Attending these events was a privilege and a great way to network with senior leaders. These sessions, often led by a trained facilitator, were highly interactive with post it notes and giant sheets of paper. Over time, the initiatives shifted, and the leaders were no longer engaged at that level. However, I require my teams to conduct process maps 100% of the time.  

Process mapping is a necessary step towards implementing change as it helps to understand the current state. A process map is a detailed diagram that articulates each step of a process. While these can be created by interviewing people, they are best conducted in a conference room environment, with representation from each function involved in the process. With enough prework, the session can be completed in 4-8 hours, depending on the complexity of the process. 

Prework to the Process Mapping Session 

Create a RASCI chart. A RASCI chart identifies the process steps, as well as the roles or people who need to participate in each step. RASCI stands for: 

  • Responsible – the person who completes the step
  • Approver – the person who needs to approve the work conducted by the responsible person 
  • Supporter – roles that provide inputs to the process step
  • Consultant – an expert who provides expertise 
  • Informed – the people who need to know about a process step being completed 

It’s important to note that every step needs a responsible person or role, but the other categories are not required*.  At minimum, one person from each function that owns a step should participate in the session. 

The output of the prework is to schedule time with the team, as well as a report out session with the relevant leaders.

Conducting the Process Mapping Session

  1. Review the RASCI chart with the team. It is important to obtain consensus that the process steps are complete, as well as who is involved in them.
  2. For each step in the process, the team will identify the following details:
    1. Inputs to the process step, as well as who provides the inputs. Sometimes the inputs are not part of the process itself but are used to make a decision or to harmonize information. For example, a purchasing specialist may refer to quality data before choosing who to buy parts from.
    2. The details about what happens during the process step. If the process is a decision, what criteria is used to make the decision should be included. 
    3. The time it takes to complete the step, as well as how long people are waiting for information.
    4. The system of record for the process step – whether it is an email, an IT software system, or even paper records.
    5. The outputs of the process step
  3. Review the process map one final time and ensure that the times noted are reasonable.
  4. Evaluate the process for waste. Waste identification should be brainstormed silently first, then shared with the group. Waste in a process could include:
    1. Rework of a process step, or returning to an earlier step in the process
    2. Waiting for inputs
    3. Excess processing such as creating reports that are not used
    4. Manual efforts that could be automated

Once the waste is identified, the team will see themes of similar waste. These can be grouped into categories and should be quantified in terms of time or cost. 

At this point the team and the project manager has a thorough understanding of the process, as well as the opportunities to drive improvement through waste elimination that can be considered in the project plan. Some process mapping events use the team to design a future process collectively, but that’s a blog for another day. 

Report Out

When people are asked to take time out of their day to support process mapping, a report out is helpful to justify the time with their managers. In addition to the management team and the participants, any people who are approvers in the RASCI should review the outcome of the process mapping session. The report out can be summarized as a Value Stream Map, which is a high-level representation of the process and includes the cycle times. It is helpful to include the waste impact in the Value Stream Map as well. 


Process mapping helps project managers understand the current state thoroughly which helps prevent issues when implementing the project. The biggest benefit of conducting the process mapping session is that it engages the stakeholders and subject matter experts. Process mapping exposes frustrations about the current state, so the subject matter experts are more likely to understand why a project is happening. Additionally, it highlights what works about the current state, so the project manager can consider keeping these best practices. When the stakeholders are understood, they are more likely to accept or even embrace the change.

NOTE: Some sources say that the A means accountable, but I prefer approver because if a person is responsible for completing a step, by default the person is accountable.

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People Don’t Resist Change

People Don’t Resist Change

Guest writer Sarah Hanks deconstructs the challenges of change in the workplace in her blog post for this week: People Don’t Resist Change.

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!” Peter Senge


On Monday, I was delighted to have the luxury of being a guest on the Industry 4.0 LinkedIn Live to discuss the learnings from success and failures. While the interview was pre-planned a question was asked that surprised me, “You stated that you’ve been doing digital transformation for a decade. What is different now than what you saw then?”

A few years ago, my team was implementing a shop floor quality system. One of my husband’s colleagues was complaining about the IT system that my team was deploying. He called me and I went down to the shop floor during my lunch break. In the conversation with the employee, I learned how frustrating it was to add cycle time to their data input and he didn’t understand the purpose. That single conversation led me to adapt the deployment strategy.

I explained that the goal was to connect the quality process from supplier to customer and drive a systematic improvement to quality. I also shared the link to collect feedback. The implementation went smoother, and the inspector provided feedback. This feedback was included in the future design, making the system better for everyone. When the application was expanded into other areas of the factory, I had several conversations with every employee on every shift. 

Throughout the following years, the end user’s adoption and support has become a top priority. Here are 5 tips that I’ve adopted into my process:

5 Tips for Frontline Team Buy-In

  1. Know the problem
  2. Prioritize a user-friendly interface
  3. Explain the why to everyone
  4. Create a feedback loop
  5. Celebrate wins as a team

Let’s look at each element:

Know the problem. 

Understanding the problem that the technology solves

is important. With the ever-changing technology and continued focus on Industry 4.0, it is easy to get sucked into the popular thing to do. Connecting sensors to machines alone does not add value. However, using those sensors to prevent unplanned downtime is both value-add and it is measurable, as an example.

Prioritize a user-friendly interface. 

Training is a cost to a business. If the user interface is easy to learn, the cost to train the employees decreases considerably. We don’t take hours of training to learn Facebook and shop floor applications should be the same. 

Explain the why to everyone. 

Take the time to have a conversation on the why with every employee. In my experience, these conversations help team members understand the value, ask questions and connect with the project.

Create a feedback loop. 

Collect feedback from everyone and let them participate directly in the journey. Don’t forget to follow up, whether the idea is incorporated or not. Communicate ideas that have been accepted broadly.

Celebrate wins as a team. 

Select a target, such as # of records, # of clicks, or length of time and connect it to a reward. Even a simple pizza party can help continue motivating people through the change.

In summary, the frontline team members are an important consideration in a digital transformation journey. Providing a purpose and easy to use solutions will allow the successful implementation of your digital transformation strategies, and achieve the estimated ROI.

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