I had an AHA moment the other day. I shouldn’t have, really. What I’m about to reveal should have been painfully obvious. But, as the old saying goes, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. I had been blinded by all the trees standing right in front of me and didn’t realize I was in the middle of a very large forest.
I have been struggling to understand a lot of performance data that is available to me. I can’t believe how hard it has been for me to make sense of all the trendlines, data, charts and information that reside at my fingertips. This should be easy. Just examine it, show some good bar graphs, dig into some of the details, then make good decisions. I can see information about what staff are doing, which clients we are working with and our financial situation on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I should be able to know exactly what is happening, where we are being successful, who is struggling, and where and how to take action – but it really isn’t that simple.
So, I started studying what was available. Then I started putting some of it in my own excel files to interpret it. And, still, I was baffled. I didn’t quite know how to direct priorities or where to establish course corrections. I had a sense of what was going well and what was not, but even with all the data I had I didn’t have the right data to set clear direction and priorities. And then it hit me… I’m only looking at the trees. To make sense of it all I had to be able to see the forest.
We all have an incredible amount of data at our fingertips these days. The amount will only increase as we continue to invest in sensors and automation and data connections. But, it is not easy to interpret. It can also be hard to pull out the actions that are needed to make improvements. Some of the data we may never need. Yet we seem to have this insatiable urge to know everything about everything. So, what does it mean to see the forest? It means understanding what you are trying to do with the data so you can turn it into a picture with which you take action. Think about it like looking at a picture on your phone. You don’t look at every individual pixel, you put all those pixels together to make a picture.
Now that I realize I was only seeing a bunch of dots on a page, I needed to figure out how to pull it all together and make it useful. I went back to basics – the basics of problem solving. What is the first thing to do? Define the problem. That is when I realized my mistake. I had never defined the problem. Instead I was looking at all the data that I had available and was expecting decisions to just leap out of my computer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. We need to understand the data we need to look at within the right context. In this case, I had not defined specific questions I needed to answer with the data. I had not used the basic process of problem solving.
I took a step back and I created a problem statement: I did not have readily available pictures that helped me guide performance at an individual, team or enterprise level. Granted, I had an overwhelming amount of data, but I didn’t have the right picture.
I developed a solution to create a dashboard that allows me to make corrections and keep me heading in the right direction. (See blog on Dashboard). In order to decide on the best dashboard, I need to think through what decisions to make for short term course corrections. I had to understand what alerts had to sound to know there was real trouble ahead. So, the dashboard had to be created with the decisions I needed to make. Once those decisions are identified I can define the key data important to keep me and the rest of the team on track. I can review this data on a regular basis and dig deeper into the details when needed. Sometimes I will need to see an individual tree, and I may even have to understand what its bark is like or how its leaves are growing. However, most of the time I can just follow the forest and make sure it is all green.
We shouldn’t underestimate our need to revisit our problem-solving skills at any level in the organization. IMEC has a great team of problem-solving trainers and coaches that helped me achieve this level of clarity. I thank them all for their guidance and knowledge. Maybe it’s time for you to start seeing your forest. Give us a call and let our problem-solving experts, Shankar Anant, Jim Floyd, Jesse Brady, and Ken Wunderlich help you make sense of your data.
If you need help in other areas of your business, experts are available to offer quick help through the Illinois Manufacturing Helpline.