Rick Smith, ITS Dir. Metrics and Quality Assurance (MQAD)

 If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The often quoted axiom “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is from Abraham Maslow’s The Psychology of Science, published in 1966.  The axioms’ implicit caution is relevant to many areas of business and service delivery.

In our ITS environment, the ability to select the right data, use the appropriate tool and/or methodology for analysis and decision making is critical.  For the best result the tool must fit the situation. Also, we should not allow the tool or methodology to do the thinking for us, rather we must think about how the tool can best be used to facilitate decision making. For example…(can you add give an example of an ITS department that’s using specific data and tools?)

The misuse of a tool or methodology, whether intentional or unintentional, can create a perception that the tool is flawed and thus not fit for use; such false assumptions and inferences must be avoided.

Consider this example…a scorecard is simply a data visualization tool designed to provide a summary view of performance trends, process variations and KPI results. It is not designed to make decisions nor supersede the users’ judgment.

Lean Six Sigma, Kepner-Tregoe and other continual process improvement tools, if used appropriately, can be extremely useful. But, if used indiscriminately the tool will not achieve the desired result.

In my opinion, an effective CSI practitioner and or manager is not blindly led by TQM theory, statistical tests, control charts, KPI metrics etc.; rather they use these tools to collect and analyze data, process information and form fact based decisions to improve operational efficiency and quality. It seems to me that the best approach is to not allow oneself to become a zealot of any one theory at the expense of wrongly dismissing the benefits from other quality and process improvement methodologies, practices and tools, but rather to use the right tools; at the right time in the right way to achieve the best result for the organization.

Have you had an experience here at Yale or in a prior organization that illustrates the “hammer-nail” axiom? If so, please share your comments and experience.