Data Changes the Conversation

By Jim Salter - March 7, 2016

 

deming “In God we trust.
  All others must bring data.”Dr. W. Edwards Deming

Early in my career, I attended a Deming Seminar and had the privilege of participating in one that was led by Dr. W. Edwards Deming himself.  I was honored to actually meet him during lunch one of the days.  Widely recognized as a leading – if not the global authority – on statistical process control, he made it his mission to teach people all over the world how using data and statistics will improve processes and systems that produce higher quality output.  He contended these principles could be applied to any process and any system, whether they were producing a car, a computer or a hamburger.

Dr. Deming was the first person I ever met that truly understood the power of data, and was the first person I ever heard use the phrase “data driven”.  Wisdom seemed to roll off his tongue effortlessly.  Here’s one statement I remember him sharing with us in his deliberate, soft spoken voice:

“When you let the data talk, it changes the conversation…”

Fast forward to 2016 – organizations of all sizes across the world are really trying to let the data do the talking when it comes to making decisions.  We have got great tools that Dr. Deming didn’t have early in his career, like personal computers, spreadsheets, the internet, search engines, and so on.  Add to that the fact that we have more data than ever – corporate systems, CRM, social media, you name it.

My guess is Dr. Deming would be pleased with that fact, as evidenced by one of his most famous quotes:

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion…”

That said, I am 100% certain that as a Statistician and Data Scientist, he would remind us that decisions based on bad data will render bad decisions, and thus bad results.  It’s critical that the data is collected, managed and controlled via a process (aka data engineering).  Once we know we have we have good data, we trust it and can use it to our benefit.  We can then trust the reports, dashboards, etc. that we produce with the data.  Those that do this well have an enterprise view of their data that serves as “one version of the truth” for all parts of the company.

I’ve found that very few truly leverage their data to its fullest the way I know Dr. Deming would.  My guess is he would say that companies need to change and embrace Data Science.  Consider this quote, one of my favorites from this brilliant man:

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

Your data has a voice and those that embrace the empowering wisdom that Data Science provides will experience competitive advantage for themselves and their organizations.  They will learn from their data, discover previously unseen patterns, and predict things others cannot.  When you do, just know that Dr. W. Edwards Deming will be smiling from above.

Jim Salter.