We ran the PMA Symposium 2013 in Scotland at the end of last week; it was an eclectic mix of academics and practitioners working in the field of performance measurement and management. One issue that raised its ugly head (and has been reinforced by the latest international comparisons in the press over the poor numeracy scores of 16 to 25 year olds in the UK) is “Do people read data?”

One exercise I regularly do in class is show data from half a bell curve, a normal distribution. The data looks like this because there is a performance measure and target which is forcing the shape of the curve. People are responding to the target and behaving in a way that damages the organisation. If you can read the data you can see the signal. If you can’t you are unaware of the problem.

Do people see it? Yes some do, but the majority don’t.

Two of the symposium participants, Alan Meekings of Landmark Consulting and David Anker from Lightfoot Solutions, have been arguing that people need to understand statistics and in particular variation. Understanding variation is at the heart of looking at the performance of any process in your organisation. Green and Black Belts understand that, some managers get it, but I am concerned that for most people and too many senior managers this simply passes them by.

What is your experience?

Mike Bourne

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