Numbers can be useful, but they don’t always tell you everything. Just like business forecasts and other models, it’s wise to include both quantitative and qualitative evaluations of your business efficiency. While quantitative measurements are designed to give hard numbers, qualitative tools can help fill in the gaps where other data are lacking. Qualitative tools can also help to understand why a result may be different to what was expected – or just as importantly, why it’s good and therefore what you need to do to make sure it stays good. How then does business efficiency benefit from both approaches?
In general, business efficiency can be defined as keeping costs down and performance up. This applies to practically every area of an organisation: finance, HR, manufacturing and logistics, to name just a few. Yet an obsession with numbers and cost-cutting may lead to ignoring other essential factors such as product quality, customer satisfaction and employee morale. In addition, trade-offs may have to be made concerning business efficiency goals in one area of a business, and the possible impact on other areas. The situation may become too complex to try to measure numerically or even to model using computer simulations.
Qualitative tools let organisations understand underlying mechanisms and see consequences. The range of such tools covers techniques such as: personal interviews; surveys; focus groups (with people carefully selected for their profile or background); and expert elicitation (get people recognised for their expert knowledge to give their opinion). These tools give you the possibility to ask open questions, such as those starting with ‘What do you think about…’ or ‘How do you feel about…’ That also means that results from such qualitative tools may be more difficult to compare. However, if they are applied consistently each time, they can yield valuable insights that balance and complete an otherwise purely numerical approach.