June 1, 2011 | Barb Carr

Root Cause Analysis Tip: Trending your Trending Program … a Love-Hate Relationship with Numbers

I often hear, “We trend lots of issues … see all the numbers and charts?” Heck, I have even said it myself a few times in my life. Then we go and check our “numbers” ask, “what does it show us today?” Or even worse, the boss asks, “can you show me ……….. ?”

Here are some of the reactive action items that I have had to follow up on in order to try and answer a question for someone else:

1. “Everything was just fine and now things seem to be out of control; show me where it went wrong?”

2. “After starting YOUR new metric, things really got bad, why?”

3. “Looking at both of these charts, show me the correlation.”

4. “But we have only had 5 incidents in 5 years (infrequent data), how can we trend that?”

5. “Look at these great trends … , what did WE… I mean  you change?”

As I started this post, this article appeared in the news discussing the Numbers Game:

Just because we’ve seen an increase in the number of tornadoes doesn’t mean there has actually been an increase in the number of tornadoes,” said Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Decades ago, when the country was more sparsely populated — and not everyone had a camera-equipped cell phone — there were simply fewer people around to spot and report tornadoes, Carbin said.

In addition, Carbin said, many initial tornado tallies include tornadoes that are counted more than once.

According to NOAA’s preliminary count, April saw 875 tornadoes. “That’s a gigantic number,” Carbin said. “It may turn out there were that many tornadoes, but I can guarantee that many of those were not significant tornadoes, but they get into the database now because everyone has a tornado they want to report.”

The highest number of tornadoes on record for any month is 542, from May 2003. Carbin said he suspects that once all the data are compiled, April’s numbers will be closer to the May 2003 numbers.

In addition, both Carbin and Crouch pointed to the fact that with increasing urbanization, more people are affected when storms do hit, putting tornadoes in the spotlight.

Numbers and climate conditions aside, one thing is for certain, the scientists said — this tornado season has been unusually violent, as the horrific images splashed across the evening news attest, and it’s not even close to being over.

But it is not hopeless, I promise. The first step is to back out of your numbers and ask:

1. Where did these numbers come from?

2. What were the numbers originally designed to measure?

3. Are these numbers part of the same set of behaviors and tasks or are they independent?

4. Were the numbers created with limited bias and not driven by a reward or discipline factor?

5. Are these numbers occurring frequently or is this intermittent and infrequent data?

6. Finally, do you understand your numbers and does the boss know what the numbers mean when you show the charts and trends or lack of trends?

Does this mean I think you need to go back to school for six weeks of statistics … no!

Does this mean that you need to throw all your old numbers away and start from scratch … maybe!

Does this mean that you may need a couple of days to reassess what you use and how you use it to trend … yes!

Since two days is not too much out of a busy schedule there are three resources that can help in you in your love-hate relationship with trending and metrics:

1. Read Chapter 5 in the TapRooT® book, TapRooT®, Changing the Way the World Solves Problems by Mark Paradies and Linda Unger

2. Read the Making Sense of Data by Donald Wheeler

3. Attend our upcoming Advanced Trending Techniques course where you receive the Making Sense of Data book, Course Workbook and hands on exercises taught by experts in the field who use real world applicable trending.

Root Cause Analysis
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