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How to Keep the Data Organized

One important characteristic of professional performance is the ability to work effectively on many assignments simultaneously. Professionals have to be able to leave a project frequently and pick it up again without losing ground. The keys to doing this well are:

1. Knowing the tools of the profession and using them in a disciplined manner.

2. Working quickly.

3. Capturing data the same day that it is gathered

Using the Tools of the Profession with Discipline

In this respect, there is more professionalism in a well conceived set of file names and directories than there is in a wall full of certificates belonging to a disorganized person. For that matter, a three-ring binder may do more good than another certificate.

A professional simply keeps track of the information that he or she gathers. Perhaps the worst enemy of data organization is the tendency on the part of intelligent people, who are for the moment intensely involved in some activity, to assume that the clear picture of it that they have today will be available to them tomorrow or a week later or months later. One way of avoiding this is to label and assemble data as if it will be worked on by someone who has never seen it before. Believe it or not, that person may turn out to be yourself.

A word about absentmindedness may be appropriate. When people are goal-oriented and extremely busy they frequently find themselves looking for something they had just moments before. The reason is that when they put it down their mind was on something else and they did not make a record of where they put it. To find it again they must think back to the last time they used it and then look around where they were at that time. Two things we can do to avoid this are:

1. Develop the discipline of closure so that activities are wrapped up.

2. Select certain places to put tools and materials and do so consistently.

Working Quickly

An analyst should take notes quickly. Speed in recording is important in order to keep up with the flow of information as the employee describes the work. It also shortens the interview, making the interruption less burdensome to the employee, and it reduces the probability that something will come up that forces the interview to be terminated prematurely. At the close of the interview it is a good idea to review the notes with the employee, holding them in clear view for the employee to see and then, of course, thank the employee for his or her help.

Skill in rapid note-taking can be developed over time. This does not mean that you rush the interview. Quite the contrary. Address the person from whom you are gathering information calmly and patiently. But, when you are actually recording data you do it quickly and keep your attention on the person. For process analysis data gathering, you don't have to write tedious sentences. The charting technique provides you with a specialized shorthand (using the symbols and conventions of process charting in rough form). See the rough notes following.

Same Day Capture of Data

The analyst then returns to his or her office with sketchy notes, hastily written. These notes serve as reminders of what has been seen and heard. Their value as reminders deteriorates rapidly. While the interview is fresh in mind these notes can bring forth vivid recall. As time passes they lose this power. The greatest memory loss usually occurs in the first 24 hours.

A simple rule for maximizing the value of these notes is to see that they are carefully recorded in a form that is clear and legible, the same day as the interview. The sooner after the interview this is done, the better. If this is postponed, the quality of the results suffers. What was clear, at the time of the interview becomes vague or completely forgotten. Details are overlooked or mixed up. Where the notes are not clear the analyst resorts to guessing about things that were obvious a few days earlier. Or, to avoid the risk of guessing, the analyst goes back to the employee for clarification. This causes further inconvenience to the employee and creates an unprofessional impression. You can help yourself, in this regard, by scheduling to keep the latter part of the work day free for polishing up notes on days when you are collecting data.


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