Data Thoughts


Fog of War

Bill Harris made an interesting post, called “Data: Fundamental Premises”. See

Bill comments that:

  1. One should only take data for a specific purpose; the quantity of data necessary for maintaining historical perspective and a report card is far less than we presently take;
  2. The value of the flow of information is epsilon less than the value of the flow of products, and the same attention should be paid to making both flows simple, easy to understand, and defect-free;
  3. Nothing beats talking to people for basic communications, but limited data helps to expand the capability of people to analyze a situation;
  4. Data collection is almost never free, although the costs are often well hidden;
  5. Manual data collection may be more valuable than computerized data collection (much as we have learned that manual, Kanban-oriented shop floor control may be preferred to computerized systems); for one thing, it is arguably easier to verify the accuracy of many kinds of data when manually collected and plotted.

My response was:


This is an interesting post and I tend to agree with your points. It makes me think of several things, not necessarily related:

1) Data and information are not the same thing. We have too much data and not enough information.

2) Knowing what is the current condition is lost to many people. As I’ve said in another post, advocacy without data is just dogma. It’s so easy to make statements about the way things should be, let alone the way things are, without really knowing the data about what is.

3) Triangulation is one way we know what is. When we meet with another person and that person makes several inconsistent remarks, we would probably make a judgment that that person is not reliable. That assessment is based upon triangulations. So, I totally agree that “nothing beats talking to people”. That’s why salespeople travel so much: to get face to face. You get to send and receive a voluminous amount of information when you are physically with someone.

4) There’s a great little movie called The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. McNamara makes the point that we can rarely know things perfectly. We must make decisions with imperfect information.

5) Manual vs. automated data collection. I’ve seen people waste a lot of time trying to automate data collection when, if they had simply focused on manual data collection, they would have spent far less time. There is a benefit in manually transposing numbers because you are forced to really think about the numbers.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful post.



28 February, 2007 05:02

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