So I went running on the weekend (“So what?!”).
I took part in a running event (“Oh you’re are one of those types!”).
I ran 104 miles.
Now I have your attention. I ran 28 miles on day 1, 39 miles on day 2 and 37 miles on the final day.
I should add for the millennials amongst you, that’s 167 km. Or Milford Haven to Cardigan for visualisers and geographers. Some of you are likely wondering why on earth I would do such a thing. You may even be thinking – I’d love to try something like this. And the compassionate ones might be concerned for the state of my feet (a bit weary, puffy ankles and medically taped up. My ice bath is calling!).
It is the same with improvement projects.
Rarely can you capture interest or support merely by saying “I am doing some improvement”. The only people whose heads will turn are other improvers. “I am doing an improvement project” might capture a few more as it sounds like something out of the ordinary. The third gets everyone’s attention. It’s the data.
Done right, the data is your common language. It immediately gives a frame of reference for your journey. And it explains the magnitude of your achievement. It provokes a response. It shouldn’t be complicated or onerous to collect or explain.
The words “data” or “measures” often raises groans of not being mathematically minded or it’s all too hard. It can feel that it is something extra to do on top of all the lovely improving that you are doing.
Measuring your improvement is inextricably linked to the change you are making. Your data is sitting all around you. You just need to look around with your project aim clearly in mind and think how do I check whether this has improved?
If you don’t know your numbers at the start (your baseline), how can you truly know that you are putting your effort into the right thing?
By monitoring your progress (regular measurement), you are aware of positive results which can be a massive morale boost to keep going. Or you know that blips are just blips or if there is something more determinedly awry.
And then when it comes broadcasting your success to your colleagues, your peers, your directorate manager or the finance director. You want them to recognise and celebrate your achievements but you need to tell them in a way that is meaningful to them as well as you.
You could think about another example – many people undertake a personal improvement project at some stage of their lives, to lose some weight. In this instance, decisions are taken about what time of day to weigh, how often or whether to enlist the support of a local club. The key point is that no-one starts without knowing their weight to begin with and without recording their regular weigh-ins. Measurement is how you keep yourself on track, how you keep pushing forward with your project.
In short, DATA IS YOUR FRIEND.
It is how you prove to the detractors that your efforts are making a tangible difference. It will be how you convince your upper echelons to give you the support and investment. And when you look back, it will be the thing that crystallises your success.