There are two common uses for a check sheet. First, to summarize historical data, or second, to collect observations. A byproduct of creating a check sheet is team agreement on definitions of categories and observation procedures.
The investment is minimal other than thinking about how you want to view the data, and what data to collect.
Where Are Check Sheets Best Used?
When you need to wrestle a batch of data into some form of information, a check sheet may be just the tool. If the data is categorical and counting the occurrences in the different categories is appropriate, then setting up a check sheet permits tabulating and analyzing the data quickly.
When making observations about an ongoing process, a check sheet helps to organize the observations into distinct categories permitting a clear count of each type of observation.
When Are Check Sheets Not the Best Tool
When faced with numerical readings using a distribution analysis or statistical process control may be a better alternative.
When the number and type of observations suggest regular changes to the set of categories, then a check sheet either has to be very flexible or is not the right tool.
Setting up and Using Check Sheets
Start with the purpose or desired outcome. What question or hypothesis are you trying to resolve? Why are you analyzing this set of data or what to collect observations?
Despite check sheet being an easy tool to set up and use, they do still take time to implement. Having a clear objective helps with framing how to set up the check sheet and when to discontinue using it as well.
One use of a check sheet is to explore a dataset without a clear hypothesis other than to understand what is in the dataset. That is fine, yet should be clear when starting.
With a clear objective in mind, establish the definitions of the categories or conditions to record. Also, define the details necessary to record, such as a tally mark for a count, the date/time of the observation, etc.
For everyone involved in interpreting the data and using the check sheet make sure there is a common understanding to avoid the use of different classifications by different people. A common feature of a check sheet is a notes section. This allows the recording of comments and additional potentially relevant observations. The note may also flag an observation that isn’t clearly within one of the check sheet categories.
The next step to set up a check sheet is to determine:
- Who, specifically, will collect the data
- Awareness and training of the data collectors, as needed.
- Duration of the collection period for an ongoing process
- The scope of the dataset(s) for historical data
- Any need for stratification of the data (may require variations of the check sheet for different processes, equipment, dataset segments, etc.)
- Any obstacles that may hinder accurate data collection (is it safe to record a fault, for example)
Designing and Using a Check Sheet
Once you determine a check sheet is the right approach and you have the basic planning done, the next step is laying out the check sheet.
The check sheet should be complete, clear, and easy to use both for data collection and analyze. While there is not one format for a check sheet and a part of the value provided by check sheets is their flexibility, it is useful to include:
- The name of the project
- The contact person leading the project
- The location of the data collection (ongoing process especially.)
- Name(s) of observer or equipment making the observations
- Dates, time, relevant conditions or factors
- Notes or comments on specific procedures and definitions.
The content area is often set up in as a table of rows for the different categories and columns for dates, lines, shifts, etc.
The check sheet may include space to calculate or count totals or perform the initial set of analyze or summarization of the data.
Check Sheet Considerations
A difficult part for a check sheet is the consistent and accurate recording of the observations. The clearing the definitions of categories are the better to avoid local or drifting categorization and recording.
Good use of a check sheet is for short durations of data collection or when the data is not easily collected in an automated manner. A long-running check sheet may become a burden or of dismissed value over time and the accuracy of recorded data wanes.
Make sure the data collectors understand and benefit from the analysis.
The use of images or drawings may help when the observations are location data.
Check sheets may perform a similar role as a checklist by providing a set of tasks or steps involved with the collection of data. A checklist is a set of tasks for a procedure whereas a check sheet also collects observational data.
In summary, a check sheet is a convenient way to quickly review a dataset or collect observations. The tool is flexible and easy to implement.
If you know about a good example of a check sheet, please add a description in the comments section below.
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