Taking your charting skills home: KPIs and health maintenance

Steve DaumCharting data is not just for the shop floor any more, as we have long discovered. Measuring outcomes for healthcare, banking, education, and other environments has become commonplace. What about taking your charting skills home? Key Process Indicators can help to evaluate weight gain/loss, exercise patterns, and more, as this piece by Steve Daum demonstrates.

Transfer of learning is a fundamental way to integrate knowledge in our lives. Learning mathematical thinking, for example, can change the ways in which we approach problems, and understanding Latin declensions may help us organize our closets (well, that may be a stretch). Certainly, visualizing data with charts is a key opportunity for this integration. Learning how to analyze and interpret charts, after all, offers a fundamental way to approach any set of data, whether in professional settings or personal life.

As a quality professional, you know the benefits of visualizing key process indicators (KPIs) in chart form. No doubt you look at these charts throughout your work week. This keeps you in touch with how your processes are running and where your attention may be required.

People with this KPI mindset often direct these skills toward non-work activities. For example, many people see the state of their physical fitness as a KPI. Charting progress on weight gain is a satisfying way to track progress. Physical fitness activities offer the same kind of opportunity. Those who bicycle, walk, run, swim or do some other exercise often gather data and then visualize it with charts to keep track of how they are doing. Marathon runners will attest to the fact that they keep data for each race, comparing their performances over time.

In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg notes that for any behavior to become a habit requires a “cue” that reinforces the behavior. A chart of exercise activity might be one of these cues. These have the power to turn a temporary behavior (“I better get in shape”) into a long term positive habit of regular exercise. Benevolent wisdom says that doing something for 30 days creates what can be considered habit. Tracking data for 30 days gives satisfying benchmarks for progress in establishing good habits.

In the chart below, a desk worker in his mid-fifties begins a program of running. After not exercising at all for many years, he starts out slowly to avoid injury and increase the odds of establishing a regular running habit. Over a period of several weeks, he keeps track of the activity in chart form. Seeing the new data point after each run becomes a motivation for the runner.

Notice that the progress is not continuous; that is, there is natural variation that may be due to special or common causes (recognize that language?). Running on a 90-degree day may produce a different outcome from the data generated with a more comfortable temperature. New shoes, different routes, headphone music can all represent influences on outcomes. Nonetheless, patterns are created in data when it is sustained over time. Weight loss can be tracked the same way; seeing trends rather than single data points reduces discouragement after a weekend of baking or feasting.