Who likes numbers? – making measuring improvement easier
Perhaps I’m a little strange.
As a mathematician and professional analyst with over 20 years of experience, the use of data and statistics to monitor and measure change has always been within my comfort zone. Many in healthcare however can find such numerical techniques quite daunting.
I head up a Lean training company working with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. When teaching the basics of measurement for improvement to delegates on our Quality improvement (QI) and Lean courses I often ask “who likes numbers?” Of course there always some enthusiasts, but they are, in my experience, in the minority.
I think perhaps we, in the improvement science field, can sometimes make measurement for improvement more complicated that it needs to be. Perhaps we use overly technical language when discussing statistical process controls for example by using too many variants of the control chart such as p, np, u and c.
See what I mean?
This approach can be a barrier to learning. If healthcare organisations are to embrace a culture of continuous improvement, I believe we need to breakdown barriers not create them.
Over the years, I’ve deliberately reduced what we teach to try and capture the minimum number of tools that anyone can use in the majority of situations – effectively taking my own medicine and applying Pareto’s (80-20) principle to QI teaching.
I believe that every member of NHS staff is capable of mastering the basics of selecting and defining simple, relevant metrics for their improvement aims and should feel comfortable plotting data on a process behaviour chart. We try to teach these skills with some simple interactive exercises and with as few numbers as possible. Focussing on helping staff to understand the concept of variation and how to interpret a simple iChart.
I’ve long been frustrated by the lack of simple tools which would help people collate data and turn it into iCharts.
Mobile technology plays a growing part in all our personal and professional lives. I myself am a huge fan of Apple’s iPad. So I felt sure that the AppStore would provide the kind of simple measurement and charting tools I needed to help my QI course delegates.
However, after a thorough search, I was unable to find any apps that really delivered what I was looking for. So I explored the feasibility of developing our own. Working with our design partners Infinite, some two years later we have released several apps designed to help practitioners with all the aspects of the Lean and QI methodologies that we teach. Including measurement for improvement.
We now provide our delegates and users with improvement tools on iPad. Through intuitive, easy to use, interfaces, staff can enter data as it’s collected and produce iCharts on-the-fly with no complicated maths or statistical analysis required.
What may be achieved, I wonder, if we can give basic improvement skills and tools such as these to every member of NHS staff?
Guest Blog by Iain Smith, Head of North East Transformation Service