Friday, April 24, 2020

Using Data and Deming in a Pandemic

Throughout history military leaders have wrestled with the “fog of war" - the desperation of not knowing critical information.  Information as basic as where are my forces and where are the forces of my opponents?  We face similar information needs today in our battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“The ultimate purpose of data is to provide a basis for action or a recommendation for action,” wrote the revered quality improvement consultant W. Edwards Deming.  Today, in our battle against the COVID-19 virus, we are struggling to make informed decisions because of our own lack of data.  The absence of information both paralyzes decision-making and forces us to expend enormous amounts of time and energy defending against all kinds of scenarios that may not in fact be relevant.  We just don’t know.  Think about a scenario of being lost in a dark forest at night with all kinds of strange sounds and dangerous predators lurking about. How would you defend yourself? Which way would you turn? It would be difficult in the best of times, but the absence of data can make it even more excruciating!  We are struggling with this today.

Today the fog of war can largely be lifted with the combination of software systems, mobile phones, sensors and analytics.  With COVID-19, however, we have the necessary and important consideration of how to protect personal privacy.

Another relevant Deming adage, “The biggest problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.” Not knowing the status of COVID-19 in our communities is a big problem.  In order to move forward and open the economy again we need to understand precisely our COVID-19 exposure and status.  We must quickly remove the blind spots by collecting as much data as possible, while at the same time protecting as much of our privacy as possible.

I look forward to quickly reaching a point where we replace conjecture with good data.  Removing the blind spots is our next best step for our physical, mental and financial health.

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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.