“Without data you’re just another person with an opinion”
W. Edwards Deming
Our journey at Effex has been ever so interesting. When Hardik and I started off in 2009, we were confident that our expertise on globally acclaimed and accepted methods like Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, COPC and others would bring about a tremendous change in the way the small and medium size businesses operate here. All of these methods and their likes and variants are widely used in organisations across The Far East, Europe and The USA to achieve continuous growth and improvements in business.
However, we soon stood realized that the methods we knew were just not implementable in the Indian way of doing business! In fact, we struggled to even start an improvement project.
And here’s why. Because there is a good amount of existing data (and well, discipline too) that is required in a business which would like to adopt these improvement methods. Of course, the rest is history. We designed and developed ‘Propel’ as a singular method specially designed for the Indian ways of working!
The thing is that majority of small and medium size businesses in India are family-run businesses and therefore have continued to operate in traditional ways using ‘chopda’ and ‘chitthi’ as their only tools. Every action and decision in a business is based on either memory and/or fat assumptions. And because the first generations still have a lot of control in the business, the newer generations are also caught up having to run the show in the same manner, much to their discomfort and dislike.
True, that a lot of businesses have grown and sustained well through the years despite the traditional ways. However, its also true that now these businesses struggle to cope up with tough competition from newer and smarter small businesses or large system-run corporates.
While the application of data collection is endless, in any business environment, there are some very precise problems that occur which are at 2 levels. One, in managing day-to-day operations in an efficient manner and two, in making important business decisions. Here are few:
Flow of information from one department to the other or one person to the other becomes a major issue. Information is often lost or broken and this causes delayed or incorrect outcomes. Example:
o Details of client requirement on order
o Billing details
o Delivery details
o Details of follow-up on complaints
o Details of follow-up on enquiries
Tracking history of occurrences becomes impossible in an event data is not recorded. Simple activities can take up too much time, bringing down the productivity in business. Business owners seldom realise that the cost of such under-the-surface inefficiencies is way more than the on-the-face losses. For example, a store person can take a long time to locate particular item in warehouse because location and quantity has not been recorded.
Incorrect decisions can be a result of no access to past records. Such incorrect decisions are detrimental to the business in many ways. We have seen many examples of retailers and distributors not tracking their customer types or high-profit-high-demand products and thereby trying to sell everything to everyone. Such decisions are capable of collapsing a business at any point because business owners are clueless of what is selling why and to who.
The good news is that it is quite simple to maintain relevant data at every level in business. Tools like MS-Excel are here at your rescue to start with. Before you jump into buying fancy ERPs to systematize the business, start with simple trackers on MS-Excel. Here’s what you must keep in mind:
- Write down what you would like to record for a certain function or process. What information is most important to you as a business owner
- Record all information in a tabular format. Make column headers of all information you require.
- Designate a resource to fill in required data
- Initially, monitor that the data is being filled with proper details
- Standardise some information using validations so that when you pull reports, data is not scattered
- Have standardised date formats. This is most important to retrieve chronological reports
- Lastly, learn how to pull and see basic pivot tables. You will be amazed at the kind of business intelligence you start accruing.
As a business if you and your staff are not used to recording information on any kind of system, this maybe a bit tough at the start and you may want to go back to old ways of doing things.
Remember at such times that in this time and age, data is your single biggest tool to help you sustain and grow as a business.