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Recording Technique

Recording Data

The keys to effective data recording are a reverence for facts and knowing how to look for them. You do not go into data collection with a preconceived notion of the design of the final procedure. You let the facts tell you what shape the procedure should take. But, you must be able to find facts and know how to record them. This is done by breaking down the procedure into steps and listing them in proper sequence, without leaving things out. The analyst keeps his or her attention on the subject being charted, follows its flow, step by step, and is not distracted by other subjects that could easily lead off onto tangents. The analyst becomes immersed in the data collection, one flow at a time.

Record what is actually happening, not what should happen or could happen. Record without a preference. Wash the wishes from your eyes and let the facts speak for themselves. When later you have them neatly organized and present them for study the facts will assert their authority as they tell their story.

The Authority of the Facts

There are two authority systems in every organization. One is a social authority set up for the convenience of arranging people and desks and telephones, dividing up the work and making decisions. The other authority system is reality itself. Too often the former is revered and feared and attended to constantly, while the latter is attended to when time permits.

Yet, whether we come to grips with the facts or not, they enforce themselves with an unyielding will of steel. 'Reality is' - whether we are in touch with it or not. And, it is indifferent to us. It is not hurt when we ignore it. It is not pleased or flattered or thankful when we discover it. Reality simply does not care, but it enforces its will continuously.

We are the ones who care. We care when reality rewards us. We care when reality crushes us. The better we are able to organize our methods of work in harmony with reality, the more we prosper. When we are unable to discover reality, or deny reality we are hurt. Period!

So we enter into data collection with respect for reality. We demonstrate respect for the people who are closest to reality. And, we do our best to carefully record the unvarnished truth.


A person who has been doing a job for years will have an understanding of the work that goes well beyond his or her ability to describe it. Don't expect operating people to describe perfectly and don't credit yourself with hearing perfectly. Sometimes it is a lot easier for a person to show you what he or she does than to describe it. A demonstration may save a good deal of time. A person might be able to show you how the task is done in minutes but could talk about it for hours.

Most people are able to speak more comfortably to a human being than to a machine. Furthermore, a tape recorder doesn't capture what is seen. If you are going to use a tape recorder, use it after you have left the interview site. It can help you capture a lot of detail while it is fresh in your mind without causing the employee to be ill at ease.

Level of Detail

As covered earlier while explaining the Description Pattern, you can gather facts but not skill. If you attempt to gather enough information to redesign a procedure without the help of experienced employees, your data collection will be interminably delayed. For instance, if you are studying a procedure that crosses five desks, and the five people who do the work each have five years of experience, together they have a quarter of a century of first-hand experience. There is no way to match that experience by interviewing. No matter how many times you go back, there will still be new things coming up. Then, if you redesign the procedure based solely on your scanty information, your results will be deficient in the eyes of these more experienced people. It doesn't do any good to complain that they didn't tell you about that after you have designed a defective procedure.

Save yourself a lot of time and grief by not bothering to record the details of the individual steps and concentrate on the flow of the work. It goes here. They do this. It sits. It is copied. This part goes there. That one goes to them. Never mind the detail of how they do the different steps. Just note the steps in their proper sequence. Then, when it comes time to analyze and you invite in those five people, they bring with them their twenty-five years of detailed experience. Voila! You have the big picture and you have the detail. You have all that you need to discover the opportunities that are there.

Defused resentment

When people who have been doing work for years are ignored while their work is being improved, there is a clear statement that their experience is not considered of value. These people tend to feel slighted. When the organization then pays consultants who have never done the work to develop improvements, this slight becomes an insult. When the consultants arrive at the workplace trying to glean information from the employees so that they can use it to develop their own answers, how do you expect the employees to react? Do you think they will be enthusiastic about providing the best of their inside knowledge to these consultants? "Here, let me help you show my boss how much better you can figure out my work than I can?" Really!

We don't have to get into this kind of disagreeable competition. Instead we honestly accept the cardinal principle of employee empowerment which is, "The person doing the job knows far more than anyone else about the best way of doing that job and therefore is the one person best fitted to improve it." Allan H. Mogensen, 1901-1989, the father of Work Simplification.

By involving operating people in the improvement process, you also reduce the risk of getting distorted or misleading data. Their experience is brought into improvement meetings, unaltered. If they get excited about helping to develop the best possible process they will have little reason to distort or withhold the data.


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