Lean Data for Service – Size Doesn’t Matter!

With so much talking these days about big data, it is easy to feel a bit ashamed of those small data some of us are usually dealing with…

But cheer up! Lean comes to rescue 🙂

I just read an interesting blog posting by thought leader Steve Bell: The Virtue of Small Data. When really thinking about data, it should be clear that the right data has more value more than a lot of useless data. Of course, a lot of right data could be better, but only if you use them. This is not really the theme of Steve’s posting but somehow it made me think of it.

What Steve does talk about, however, is the value of asking the customer – and the employees – about small things, resulting in small data representing the voice of the customer, VOC. This is not only for showing respect for people – many people like to tell what they think and would be happy to get the chance – it is also for actually finding out how to bring value to the customer.

And what is the purpose of doing anything towards the customer if they do not value it? Then maybe it would have been better to not attempt at all. But it is even better to make sure that the customer gets what they want and need.

This process should help identify the key question that every lean practitioner should always ask: What is the problem and why is it important?

The small data are then what can be captured by asking additional questions in such situations where you in any case talk to the customer. Like when providing service through a service desk. This is something I – like most people, I guess – have been annoyed about numerous times: why the service desk doesn’t listen in order to understand what doesn’t work and what I was expecting. Why do the service desk clerks/supporters often just consider the situation from the top – how can I, for now, be brought to move on somehow – instead of getting to the bottom of it and afterwards discuss with their peers how the problem can be fixed, once and for all?

I have discussed this earlier in Danish in No Crisis-bloggen and in the LinkedIn group Dansk Lean IT.

Six Sigma has some very good capabilities in this area since a service desk often has the opportinity to collect data on an on-going basis, which can be calculated upon. And Six Sigma is very much about calculating on data.

But Lean can handle this just as well if we just accept to stop the line of (service) production for a short while, for some of the service staff, using that time-out for analysing and improving the service in a kaizen event.

Remember: Lean is not just about efficiency but also about quality through delivering real customer value.

Lean startups are familiar with using small data and rapid experiments. A new software product with a small user base can be tested, one experiment at a time, observing user behavior as they respond to each change. Can a large, established enterprise think and act this way too?

Of course they can. They can start with the point of frequent customer interaction, the Gemba. This is why a customer call center can be so valuable, yet many companies (especially big ones) treat it as a cost center, staffing with lowest cost individuals who are incented by call volume statistics rather than meaningful customer interactions.

Steve’s article made me wonder why it took so long to get Lean into IT, but by reading his post I guess that everybody should be able to see the light.

Lean Data Management is just one of the many components of Lean IT, but definitely one which has a great potential. As always with Lean, there is nothing new in it, really. But the consistent effort to excercise lean thinking may improve on many problems otherwise not noticed or just not handled.

And lean thinking includes asking with the purpose of improving, observing with the purpose of reflecting, learning, gaining knowledge, and sharing that knowledge with the purpose of cooperating on delivering great value.

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