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Three Quality Data Traps

(and how to avoid them)

When technology makes things easier—as it always does—it
also comes with its own set of complexities. The develop-
ment and widespread use of the personal computer is no
exception. A computer can do in minutes what it used to take
hours or days to accomplish; revolutionizing the ways that
data is reported and at the same time creating greater expec-
tations about that data. Before personal computers changed
everything, for example, weekly charts of accounts recievable
were done by hand. Employees rooted through file cabinets,
looked at invoices, and jotted figures on sheets of paper.
(page 1) Next, they used graph paper, perhaps splurging on color felt
tip pens, to make rudimentary line charts. When the quality
manager presented charts at the monthly meeting, imagine
the sigh when the CEO asked the simple question “What
does that weekly chart look like by month?”

The Quality Domain (page 2)

Trap #1 (page 3)

Trap #2 (page 4)

Trap #3 (page 5)

Data as a Free Agent (page 6)

Who is PQ Systems? (page 9)

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Enter the PC, designed to make data readily available. Add
quality analysis software, and the data is easily massaged. Or
is it?

The Quality Domain
In almost every business today, data flows from the opera-
tions of the business into various software systems. Account-
ing, inventory, resource planning, contact management, pa-
tient health records, order fulfillment, quality management,
and many other disciplines have been systematized. Each
of these departments provides its own view of the data it
manages. This view might be thought of as a domain-specific
(page 2)
report. The report fetches and massages data, then formats it
for presentation.

Domain
Business Data
Software specific
operations systems reports

Many of these software systems allow reports to be custom-
ized, but the reports often leave more information to be
learned from the data. The “accounts receivable” chart is a
good example. A standard report might give you a compari-
son of this month to the same month last year. What if you
want to know the weekly mean over time? What if you want
to look for trends? Is variation increasing or decreasing? Do
signals exist that indicate problems or opportunities?

These are questions Six Sigma professionals are trained to
ask. They are from the quality domain. Often, the questions
are focused on quality metrics such as customer satisfaction,
number of errors, and number of defects. However,
they can provide insight when asked more broadly Is data outside the
about data flowing into other enterprise systems. quality department
But when the data you want to analyze for a Six easily accessed for
Sigma project is flowing into other software systems, quality purposes in
how do you chart it? This is a challenge for many your organizaion?
quality-focused, variation-minded professionals.

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Trap #1: Move the Data
One solution is an old stand-by. It’s been around a long
time and many people use it. It’s called move the data. You
may have experienced this. You select a Six Sigma project to
reduce the number of accounts receivable over 60 days. The
data resides in your accounting system but you want to make
a control chart, using your quality software program.

First you search the accounting software’s help files and
figure out how to export data from the accounting system.
Then you do the same to learn how to import that data into
your quality charting software. Along the way, you learn the
(page 3)
oddities of each program and the file formats they support.
Eventually, you can actually remember the steps from week
to week—but they remain as a manual process. Next is the
desperate search for ways to automate the process. After all,
this weekly task is consuming a lot of time. (Imagine if it
were daily!) So you write a macro program or use a scripting
tool to automate the task.

Now it is working just the way you want. Life is good. Then,
during a meeting, one of the team members asks a simple
question. “I wonder what it looks like by month?” Sigh.
Moving the data
Are we that much better off than when we used felt tip
can generate three
pens and graph paper? Yes, the software allows us
potentially deadly
to crunch a lot of data quickly, but the move-the-data
problems.
approach involves three potentially deadly problems.

1) The data you are analyzing is a copy of the original data.
The copy can be obsolete within minutes of exporting it
from the source system. Data may have been added or
even changed in the original system. By the time you pres-
ent the chart to the CEO, the data is stale. CEOs typically
don’t like stale analysis.

2) Moving the data causes repetitive work. Even if the work
is mostly automated, it will have to be repeated each time
you need a current assessment. PCs facilitate this, but each
step in a process is an opportunity for something to go
wrong.

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
3) Finally, move-the-data systems are brittle. If your CEO
wants an additional variable added to the analysis or a
team member wants to stratify the data in some new way,
the system must be reworked, often from scratch. Rework
is tedious, time consuming, and wasteful. This waste di-
rectly affects the bottom line.

Trap #2: The Wrong Tool
When we have a question about data, we tend to go to the
application that stored the data to ask the question. But is
the spreadsheet or database that houses the data the best
(page 4) tool for quality analysis? If you’ve ever had the unfortunate
experience of creating a control chart from scratch in Excel,
you understand what it’s like to dig a ditch with a spoon.
Twenty-seven steps later (that’s right, we counted), you can
have a basic weekly X-bar chart of accounts receivable. And
then the CEO asks, “What does that weekly chart look like by
month?” Or worse he suggests, “Perhaps we should recalcu-
late control limits beginning with the month we hired the col-
lections officer.” Sigh. Want to create control charts in Oracle?
This task will make 27 steps seems simple. It is better to use
the right tool for the job. In this case, use a tool that has a
quality mindset and understands quality management tools.

Accounts Receivable

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3 Quality Data Traps
Excel is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
Oracle is a registered trademark of Oracle.

www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Trap #3: Do Nothing
Given the work and potential hazards associated with the
first two traps, you may be tempted to select another im-
provement project—one that is associated with the quality
domain, where data already exists in the quality software
programs. But in most organizations today, large amounts of
data flow into databases. Operators enter data into a manu-
facturing program, bookkeepers into an accounting system,
sales people into an order entry system. What can be learned
from that data? How can you use the data to save money or
improve quality in your organization? How can you find sig-
nals in the data—signals that let you know there is a problem
(page 5)
or an opportunity? After all, why do you have all this data if
your organization does not plan to benefit from it?
Quality analysis
Doing nothing means gaining nothing. Control charts are
tools can be applied
simple but powerful tools. They can help you avoid two
to virtually any
important mistakes: adjusting a process when you
process in any part
should leave it alone, and not adjusting a process
of an organization
when intervention could probably help. The database
to have a positive
is a repository and the chart is a tool that allows you to
impact on the
make sense of the current data to bring about data-based
bottom line.
decisions and improvements.

If you are trained in quality, you are trained to focus on
reducing variation. You look for reasons behind the varia-
tion. You look for patterns in the data, signals that can show
the way to cost savings or quality improvement. You have a
set of analysis tools that includes control charts, histograms,
scatter diagrams, run charts, trend lines, and Pareto charts to
help you analyze various sets of data.

This mindset is primarily applied in the quality domain.
However, as most Six Sigma professionals have learned,
these tools are valuable outside of the quality domain.
Whether you manage inventory levels in a manufacturing
setting or keep track of medical supplies in a hospital, quality
analysis tools can enhance your decision making.

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
So data is flowing into many domain-specific applications
like your laboratory information system or your patient
management program. All of that valuable data is essentially
locked up, but think about the potential! What if the data
could be unlocked by a quality improvement software
application?

Business operations Data Software systems

(page 6)
20
Database
10
0
10 20 30 40 50 Quality Mindset

Data Analysis – Quality
mindset

Data as a Free Agent
At PQ Systems, we’ve spent many years listening to custom-
ers talk about moving the data into our quality applications.
We even designed features to ease this work. As we devel-
oped our new CHARTrunner product, we took a different ap-
proach. We decided it would be better to understand the data
in place. The data storage problem had already been solved.
So we set out to provide an easy way to understand this data
from the quality improvement and Six Sigma point of view
without getting tangled up in the mechanics of moving it
around.

CHARTrunner focuses on understanding data in place, un-
derstanding the variation, understanding the out-of-con-
trol signals, understanding the capability indices and other
statistics, all without moving the data. Quality and Six Sigma
professionals are trained to look at data this way. CHARTrun-
ner provides a tool to help accomplish this work.

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
The CHARTrunner workflow consists of defining a chart that
links to data in some existing application. The link can be live
and is always current. Each time you view the chart the most
current data is retrieved. This allows you to define a chart
once but use it often.
CHARTrunner
eliminates the
CHARTrunner eliminates the three problems associated
three potentially
with Trap #1, moving the data:
deadly problems
of moving data.
1) The data you are analyzing is the original data. If data
is added or changed, the CHARTrunner chart reflects the
change. Charts are always up to date.

(page 7) 2) CHARTrunner eliminates repetitive work, and this in turn
eliminates opportunity for errors.

3) CHARTrunner is flexible. Variables can be added to the
analysis and data can be filtered or stratified with a few
clicks of the mouse. Rework is eliminated, having a posi-
tive impact on the bottom line.

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3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
With CHARTrunner, quality professionals can look at data
from any part of the organization from a quality perspective
with little or no effort. The data can reside virtually any-
where. Just point CHARTrunner to the Excel, Access, Oracle,
.txt, or other file, select the type of analysis, and select chart.
Each time you draw the chart, CHARTrunner will fetch the
data, so that your charts are always current. It really is that
simple. And what about the CEO who wanted to see the ac-
counts receivable chart by month rather than week? That’s
now easily accomplished within a matter of seconds.

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3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Who is PQ Systems (and what do they know
about quality)?
For more than 22 years, PQ Systems, Inc. has been providing
charting software and services for manufacturing, health-
care, government, and other industries. Our control charting
software CHARTrunner is being used in high-performance
organizations such as Akzo Nobel, Baptist Health, Cleveland
Clinic Health System, Honda of America, and Innophos. To
learn more about CHARTrunner and to download a free 30-
day trial, visit www.pqsystems.com or call 800-777-3020.

(page 9)
About the Author
M. Stephen Daum is director of development for PQ Systems.
Prior to assuming responsibility for development, Steve was
the lead programmer on PQ’s statistical software products—a
position he took in 1985. Steve has more than 20 years of
experience with control charts and control charting software
and has shared that experience through presentations, train-
ing, and educational sessions for organizations throughout
the U.S., England, and South Africa.

3 Quality Data Traps www.pqsystems.com
800.777.3020
© 2006 PQ Systems, Inc.
AND HOW TO AVOID THEM