In an earlier article, I wrote about SPC and its importance to making good decisions when using data.  There is much more to the story (even beyond this blog).  One item to write about involves the use of operational definitions and how data is manipulated.

During a bank management consulting contract (technology) I was tasked with coming up with SLAs (see SLA=Stupid Limiting Agreements).  I was asked to come up with operational definitions that would allow the vendor to “meet the SLA.”  That means we wouldn’t count certain types of downtime when we were considering uptime of a system.  Some were reasonable from the vendor perspective, but we really didn’t know the impact on the end banking customer risking sub-optimization or worse service to the bank.

I see intended and unintended types of manipulation with data all the time. People cheating or changing the operational definition to hit their financial or performance goal, not realizing the impact or realizing the impact on the system that is trying to be optimized.  I’ve pointed out the root cause of this manipulation coming from these types of financial and performance targets.  I also see where people using data change operational definitions (unwittingly) and then draw poor conclusions from two different sets of data.  If you change the operational defintion you change the measure.

This doesn’t mean that operational definitions won’t change over time, we just need to be able to know that comparisons can not be made between data with different definitions.  In the Vanguard method (my preferred method), customer metrics are defined in customer terms, but require some consistency in the measure.  This does not mean perfect as all data are flawed to some degree, but consistent measures worthy of comparison.

Coming up with worthy data requires meticulous study of customer demand and what is important to the customer.  The operational definitions help ensure the SPC data and decisions based on these data are valid.  Be sure that your quality change management program accounts for the practical use of data for the front-line, managers and executives, it will allow your service organization to ask better questions and make better decisions.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control thinking and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at