Quality Control and the Life of Data - Part 1: First Life

The amount of data available across all industries is growing at a staggering rate. The American manufacturing industry is no exception. With incredibly high volumes of data available, managers can now unlock valuable information to help them make important, strategic business decisions. The importance of the data you collect every day cannot be overstated.
 
That’s why, in this article, I want to introduce a concept that’s near and dear to my heart—the Life of Data. To be more specific, I’m going to make the case that data have two lives. As an industrial statistician with over 30 years of working with production data, I have a great appreciation of the benefits data can provide any organization.
 
There’s so much to unpack on the subject, but let’s begin with some basic concepts. And, for the time being, let’s turn our focus to the quick service restaurant industry because QSR operators are constantly under the gun with pressing, time-sensitive needs that must be met all day long, every day.
QSR operators

Questions Need Answers: Look in Quality Data

Data are collected in restaurants to provide information about whatever “thing” (product, equipment, facilities, or processes) one is collecting data against—and the ever-changing characteristics of that thing needs to be described and analyzed. Only through proper evaluation can data help you discover ways in which you can improve, uncover problems, and perhaps even avoid potential problems.
 
For example, one might record the internal temperature of a chicken breast for any number of reasons, depending on the question(s) that need to be answered. A temperature reading is required to answer any of the following questions:
  1. Was the chilled raw breast temperature in the safe zone when delivered from the poultry distributor?
  2. Did the breast reach the safe-cook temperature before it was removed from the grill?
  3. Did the chicken pass through the “danger zone” fast enough during the cook chill process?
  4. Is the cold-hold temperature in the safe zone?
  5. Is the hot-hold temperature in the safe zone?
These are all critical measurements to ensure food safety and quality control standards. Corrective actions are triggered whenever a meat temperature fails to meet the standard. Of course, the standards are specific to the question being asked.
 
So how does this short discourse on safe meat temperatures relate to the life of data? Let’s talk about how long any of these temperature measurements hold their value. Once the chilled, raw breast temperature is known to be in the safe zone, does that reading hold any more value? Conventional wisdom says no.
 
The data holds no more value because the question was answered the moment the temperature reading was displayed on the thermometer. This can be extended to any of the above temperature questions. The valuable life of a reading ends as soon as one receives a Yes or No answer to the question.
 
I call this the First Life of Data—collect the reading, answer the question, file the results, move on with your day.
Woman cooking in QSR kitchen not recording quality control data 
It’s not quite that simple, of course, because data are required to be collected all day long—greeting time, wait time, service time, cook time, out-the-door time, fryer temp, walk-in temps, reach-in temps, sanitizer strength, dishwasher temp, hand-washing station water temp, internal-cook temps, cool-chill, hot-holds, cold-holds—and we’re just getting started. All these readings are required to answer vital questions, and in most cases, the same questions are asked multiple times a day. If the values are within standards, no additional action is taken. But when the data indicate that a process is nonconforming, then corrective actions and other activities are usually required.
 
At its core, first life data are collected to answer only two questions:
  1. Do I need to do something?
  2. Do I do nothing?
Most all businesses, not just restaurants, are managed by focusing solely on the value derived from data’s first life. From this management style comes the adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
 
Don’t get me wrong, first life data are extremely valuable and play a critical role in business survival. But what if you could become more profitable by pulling gold nuggets from the data you’ve already collected? You’ve already paid for it, so why dismiss the data after those real-time questions are answered? You see, data has a second life. A life that is rich with possibilities and limited only by the questions one asks.
Second Life of Data

More Questions

The data lifecycle represents all the stages of data throughout its life from its collection, to analysis, to distribution, and then reuse. Reuse of your data is where we’re going next in our discussion. The next article in this series will focus on the Second Life of Data.
 
By asking new questions, those historical meat temperatures take on a new life. You’ll look at walk-in temps a whole new way. All existing data hiding on your clipboards, spreadsheets, and databases are candidates for opening new insights into making your business more profitable. See you soon.

Read the other blogs in this series: Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.
 
 
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Steve Wise
By Steve Wise
Vice President of Statistical Methods
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