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What Facts to Gather?

Knowing what facts you want to gather is crucial to effective fact gathering. When a people do not know what they are looking for but attempt to learn everything they can, in effect “to gather all of the facts”, they embark on endless and often fruitless effort. Knowing what facts not to gather is just as important as knowing the facts that are needed.

There is a pattern to fact gathering that is particularly helpful during process improvement. It makes use of the standard journalism questions: what, where, when, why, who and how. This pattern focuses on the information that is relevant for process improvement and avoids that which is not. How it accomplishes this is not completely obvious. It goes like this.

Distinguishing Between Facts and Skill

No matter how carefully facts are gathered, they will never match the understandings of people who have experienced the work first hand for years. Those people possess the organizational memory. They have accumulated detailed knowledge that is available to them alone. They access this knowledge intuitively, as they need it, in a fashion that has the feel of common sense. But, they cannot simply explain it to someone else.
For instance, we could ask an experienced medical doctor what he does when he visits a patient and expect a general answer like, “I examine the patient and enter a diagnosis on the patient record form.” However, if we then asked “How do you do that? How do you know what to write as the diagnosis?”, we would be asking for detail that took years to accumulate. During those years this detail has been transformed from myriads of individual facts to intuitively available skill. We simply cannot gather it.

The information that the doctor and for that matter all employees can readily provide answers the question, “What?”. The information that cannot be provided because it resides in the realm of skill answers the question, “How?”. Rather than attempt to gather the skill and settling for simplistic/superficial data we acknowledge that that information is not accessible to the fact gatherer.

However, this information is critical to effective improvement. In order to get at it, we must invite the people who have it to join in the improvement development activity. This is the fundamental strength of employee teams. They provide the organizational memory.
And, don’t think for a moment that medical doctors have skill but clerks don’t. In all lines of work there are differences of skill levels. Our object in process improvement should be to incorporate into our changes the finest skills available. So we use teams of the best experienced employees we have. To do otherwise invites superficiality.

Using the Description Pattern

The description pattern provides facts, not skills. We organize these facts on charts as effective reminders of the steps in a process. When these charts are used by people who are skilled at performing those steps, we have the knowledge we need for improvement. Therefore:

What – Answer this question at every step. This tells us what the step is and provides the necessary reminder for the team.

Where – This question deals specifically with location. Answer it for the very first step of the process and then every time the location changes and you will always know location.

When – When dealing with processes, this question generally means how long. Ask it throughout the fact gathering, making note of all delays and particularly time-consuming steps.

Who – This question deals specifically with who is performing each step. The easiest way to collect and display this information is to note every time a new person takes over.

How – This question is important but it changes the fact gathering to skill gathering. We should rarely get into it. Instead we leave this information to be provided by the team, as needed.

Why – This question is different. It is evaluative rather than descriptive. It becomes most important when we study the process for improvement but while we are fact gathering, it is premature. Just gather facts. Later as a team we will question the why of each of them.

Follow this pattern and:

• You will always show what is happening.

• You will always show where the work is happening.

• You will show who is doing the work whenever a person is involved.

• You will show when most of the processing time is occurring.

• You won’t bog your readers down with how the individual steps are done, non flow detail.

• You won’t bog your readers down with how the individual steps are done, non flow detail.


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