Before you begin gathering data, make sure that your improvement goal is clearly stated. Your data gathering question should aim to answer one question. (Hint: Use one of the 5 W’s or 2 H’s discussed earlier.)

For example, you might want to know, “What was the difference between sales last year and sales this year?” or, “What is the defect rate for the Widget Master 5000?”

Next, decide what will be measured (profits, expenses, returns, defect rate, etc.) and how it will be measured. You may choose several metrics to analyze. Now, decide what data gathering tools you will use and how data will be recorded.

Once data has been gathered, be careful when analyzing it. It is easy to analyze the data in such a way that it gives you the results that you are looking for. Double and triple check your analysis. Make sure any conclusions are truly supported by the data.

Likewise, be careful when depicting data visually. Be sure to choose the right type of visual aid. Sometimes a simple line graph will suffice. At other times, you may need a more visual tool (such as a flow chart) or a more complicated statistical tool (such as a histogram). Try to choose the simplest type of illustration possible.