I loved Star Trek. Still do. As a kid, my parents used to say, “Garbage in, Garbage out. (GI/GO). All that science fiction will stunt your imagination!” Ha, maybe that’s why I became an engineer. Too much Star Trek. Can you ever really have too much Star Trek? Nope.
GI/GO is also used regarding computers and the data streams surrounding us. Our computer systems have become very complex — they rely on perfect information (dates, quantities, etc.) to calculate Spock-like (had to throw in a Star Trek reference for you Trekkies) information. They can provide product analysis, financial roll-ups and even drive the pace of the manufacturing floor.
But have mercy should a data set be entered wrong. You’ve just created an information tsunami. It’s at that point the “humans” must intervene and restore order. This is time consuming and eventually could negate any productivity improvements the computer provided. Many times the root cause is found to be, “Garbage In”.
So how do we error proof our data sets?
First, you should considering treating the knowledge worker processes with the same rigor as you would the manufacturing process. Use your Six sigma, poka-yoke and other quality management processes to find the optimal data path. Be intentional. Don’t just let it happen. (Now before you go all engineering on your non-engineering teams, be nice. Remember – sharing is caring.)
Second, if something was Garbaged In – you need to trace the garbage back. Find the source. Was it a one time error or was it due to a process error? Use a systems approach to find the root cause. Yes, clean up the garbage out but find out the “why”. Whatever you choose to do – pull everyone into the solution. Here’s some questions to consider:
- Are your reports too complex?
- Are you measuring things you don’t need to?
- Can you simplify your system?
- What is it that you need to address to remove the GI?
- Do you need to launch an initiative or was this a simple error?
Finally, the computer isn’t always right, software glitches do occur. People program computers, people are not perfect – thus computers can be wrong. Sometimes.
Where’s Spock when you need him?