Four Steps to Improve Data Accuracy: A Case Study

January 10, 2016

Recently a client hired me to help them get their ERP implementation unstuck. There are several lessons from this case study that can be applied to any implementation or process improvement.

The client had implemented a new ERP system at the first of several planned sites over a year ago but were unable to get the results they needed from that implementation to get permission to start the second site. They asked me if I could help.

The first thing I did was meet with the executive steering committee and asked them exactly how they were judging the first implementation. They pointed me to a particular metric they were watching. Without going into all the specifics, in their business process there is a critical field that has to be filled in on every purchase order. While entering some value in the field is mandatory, the exact value selected is a judgment call by the buyer placing the PO. The metric being looked at by the executive steering committee showed that the buyers’ judgment was wrong over 50% of the time. This was the issue that had to be solved before moving on to the second site.

Over the years I’ve been consulting, I have developed a method that I use to help my clients improve their processes. The steps in my method are: Align, Train, Enable, and Inspire. I’ll explain each  one in context of this case study. We start with Align.

Before anything else, I needed to ensure the metric was correctly measuring the situation. The members of the steering committee had never looked at the data behind the value of the metric they were watching. They had been accepting the percent accuracy at face value. When I brought the detail of the measure to their attention, they all had a different idea of what correct was and how to measure it. No wonder they had been stuck for over a year, they had not agreed on the goal.

Step 1: Align

In this case, Align meant we had to get everybody to agree on what good data looked like so I got the executives all in the same room to talk through the various opinions and beliefs on the subject. It was a “robust” exchange of ideas for 90 minutes but by the end everyone agreed on how to judge the value being entered by the buyers. We documented and published the agreement to ensure everyone was using the same definition. We were Aligned on the goal and how to measure progress toward the goal.

Step 2: Train

With that common goal in hand, next we needed to understand what was preventing us from meeting that goal. After some digging we were able to identify three root causes of errors. Armed with the data, I met with the buyers. I first made sure the buyers understood the goal and why it was important. I trained them on why this field was important to the rest of the organization and what it drove after the material was received. The training continued by showing them the three things they were doing to introduce errors in to the system. We agreed on changes they would make to their process that, if followed, would stop causing new errors.

Step 2: Enable

The discussions pointed out that the buyers needed a tool to help them with the process of selecting the value to enter into the field. Providing tools to help execute a process is part of the Enable step in my method. To Enable the buyers to select  the proper value, I developed a simple to use tool that guides the buyer to select the right value for new materials. If the material has never been bought before, the tool asks the buyers to answer four questions all of which had a list of possible answers. The answer to the first question narrows down the list of possible answers to the second question. Let me illustrate. Question 1: What are you buying? Possible answers: Material or Service. Question 2: What Type? If the buyer selects “Service” as the answer to question 1, the choices in question 2 would be: Consulting, or Maintenance. If the answer to Question 1 is “Material”, the choices for the second question would be: Production Material or Office Supplies. In this manner, four questions were all that was needed to ensure the right value was selected. Every time a material is purchased for the first time the value selected by the buyer is vetted by an expert, corrected if needed, then entered into the tool. Whenever the item is purchased again, the previously vetted value is displayed to the buyer ensuring consistency on every future purchase. With the tool in place, we completed the third step in my process improvement method. The buyers were Enabled.

Step 4: Inspire

Inspire usually means to put consequences in place for the results people produce. And that’s exactly what we did in this case. We developed a measure of each of the three root causes. We produce those measures every week and the buyers’ supervisors review the results and discuss them with the buyers. The power of doing that little thing is amazing. As soon as people who are Aligned, Trained, and Enabled know they are being measured, they start to change their behavior. Over the next several weeks, fewer and fewer new errors were introduced and existing errors were corrected.

Progress in the measures of the three root causes led to improvements in the metric the steering committee was watching. We’re not done yet. This is still a work in progress but following the Align, Train, Enable, Inspire method of process improvement we have made more headway in a few weeks than had been made in the previous year. Based on the progress we’re making, the steering committee gave us the go ahead to implement the second site.

There is much more to Align, Train, Enable, and Inspire then is shown in this case study but think about applying those steps to your next process improvement, or better yet, give me a call and I’ll help you make a successful change.

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