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Good, Clean Data and the Seven L’s

by David Wisor

May 18, 2010

At the risk of bringing a pop culture reference in to a blog about SAP, I love watching “Star Trek The Next Generation”. And for me, the most interesting character was Data. For those of you that are not familiar with the series, Data was an android, a human looking robot. For the most part, Data didn’t make decisions, he wasn’t pretty, and he wasn’t fun. Data was pale skinned and expressionless. Occasionally when there was a short circuit or some other mishap, Data went bad, and those were some of the most interesting episodes of all.

So at this point, I’m thinking it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what my real focus will be for today, and my next several blog entries. Data, and how to prevent those short circuits that occasionally caused Data to want to crash the Enterprise into the nearest star (That’s my last reference to science fiction television in this post, I promise).

What causes data to go bad? Well the first and most obvious answer is the data entry team. After all, who else could be to blame except for the unfortunate soul who has access to and regularly uses PA30, PA40, PA70 and the other transactions that allow you to save data into the SAP HR tables? Forgive me if I say that the first and most obvious, and indeed technically correct, answer is short-sighted.

In a perfect world, the people that do data entry would never make mistakes, and would understand every subtle nuance associated with your employees and your organization. So keep looking for the employee that never, ever makes a mistake. But until then, we need a strategy to cope with human frailty. The strategy that we use at Mannington is one that I f eel works with most systemic problems, SAP or otherwise.

The strategy we employ can be broken down into several categories. Just because I think it’s clever (and I was unable to come up with a catchy acronym like FLAVORS, CHEERS or CLEAR), I’m going to call them “the 7 L’s”:

  • Less employees doing data entry
  • Logical process flow
  • Learning opportunities
  • Limited decision making
  • Lead data entry to their incorrect entries
  • Let data entry employees know how they’re doing
  • Look for ways to improve

Less employees doing data entry-Fewer employees means fewer people to communicate changes to, fewer people to talk to when there has been a mistake, and fewer people getting more practice. In other words, if your organization is handling 100 garnishments a year, 2 people doing 50 each will learn the process better than 10 people doing 10 each.

Logical process flow-Review your process. Look at your forms. Does the flow of the form match the flow of your personnel actions? Are the forms providing all the information needed by your data entry team? Are they having to respond back with additional questions? Do your menus describe the choices your team can make?

Learning opportunities-Provide documentation, and make sure it’s understandable and of value to the people that will be using it. Provide training.

Limit decision making-Simplify your screens, your actions, and the choices to be made by your data entry team.

Lead data entry to their incorrect entries-Run reports and run them often. We run hundreds of reports every day, looking for most of the conceivable errors. When there is an error, it is sent to the data entry t eam, every day, until it is fixed. This immediate and constant reminder means bad habits can’t set in, and that incorrect data is fixed quickly.

Let data entry employees know how they’re doing-In addition to the feedback that the reports provide your employees daily, give direct and specific feedback, not just constructive feedback when they need to correct their work, but also positive feedback when they do something well. Search out those opportunities!

Look for ways to improve-You can always do better. Look for opportunities to improve, not just when you’ve failed, but even during those close calls, when you could have failed. With your list of Infotypes in front of you, spend time looking at what could go wrong and determining how to prevent it.

I’ll be following up with a few more posts, providing detail on some of the specific changes we’ve implemented using the “7 L’s approach”

David "Bud" Wisor, Mannington Mills

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