Data Driven Decisions are the smart decisions

5 03 2015

Genuine dialogue, not rhetorical bomb-throwing, leads to progress.” ~Mark Udall

In a similar vein, “management by anecdote” can lead to disaster.  How many times have you heard someone say something like “our process has to be re-engineered – this terrible thing happened to this one customer”.  I’ve heard that an envelope-stuffing machine put 2 letters in one envelope… once.  That’s over the course of about 5 million letters put into envelopes over the years.  If we had a knee-jerk reaction, and stopped using the vendor, we would have been stuffing in the neighborhood of 30,000 envelopes per month – a huge expense and major technological step back!  Instead, we asked the vendor to do an envelope-to-letter reconciliation (the number of letters printed equals the number of envelopes going out).  Is it possible that we might still get a “double stuffed” letter and another blank envelope being mailed out?  Sure, but what’s the cost of hand-stuffing, and couldn’t we hand-stuff double statements accidentally anyway?

That’s just one example.  Life is full of one-in-a-million anecdotes that, if reacted on in the absence of data, could stifle progress in all sorts of industries and personal situations.  Someone dies in a car accident?  Stop using cars across the globe!  An airplane crashes?  Time for no more airplane rides!  Management by anecdote in this way would have us back in cave-man times… even then, when someone dropped their club and broke a toe – then no more clubs, please!  🙂  What I’m saying, quite simply, is “stuff happens”.  Before you throw the baby out with the bath water because of an error – take the time to analyze the data.  Was it a fluke?  Get over it.  How many failures per thousand?  Per million?  Data-driven-decisions, time and time again, are the safe bet.   If you have a systemic problem, of course you look at the procedures and change them. If it’s a one-off anecdote, don’t let one small issue set you back to the stone-ages.

Speaking of dialogue…


Rubes cartoons used with permission.




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