Developing New Measurement Systems


As a Six Sigma Black Belt at a company that does not embrace Six Sigma as part of its culture, data are sometimes hard to come by–useful data, at least. As I described earlier, some types of data are hard to measure and collect and many black belts move on to projects that can be completed using existing data. I am guilty again: I used this very tactic for my Black Belt project.

I have bumped up against this issue enough times that it led me to think and where I started thinking was as follows.

In my college years, I decided that I wanted to study psychology with an emphasis on family and couple dynamics. I completed an undergraduate degree in family psychology and entered a doctoral program with the intent to become either a research clinician or family therapist. I have the utmost respect for those that perform this worthwhile work but found that my skill set did not lend itself to either of these careers. After completing my master’s coursework, I discontinued my studies and focused my efforts on my then fledgling career as a business analyst.

The work that most impressed me during my graduate studies was that conducted by Dr. John Gottman. He built what is known as “The Love Lab” in Washington state where he and his research team observe couples interacting. Unlike many social scientists, however, Gottman and his team make more than the typical social science types of observations. They use heart rate monitors, measures of pulse amplitude, jitteriness, and skin conductivity. This is all in addition to a very detailed behavioral observation system he developed to characterize behaviors and emotions of couples as they interact.

But Gottmans approach to measuring behavior and emotions is not the entire story. He and his team have made significant discoveries using these data. They are able to predict with incredible accuracy–around 90%–whether a couple will still be together a year from the date that they observe them in their laboratory!

How does this relate to Six Sigma and data measurement systems in business? I suspect that many of us find ourselves stuck using the same old types of measurement systems. I believe that one of the keys to breakthrough improvements lies in developing fundamentally different ways of collecting business data.

When I say fundamentally different, I mean that the type of data or method of collecting data should be very different than what/how your business and my business currently collect–second order change.

An example of second order change might be to invest effort in text mining the written comments you receive from customers (rather than or in addition to just using likkert-scale surveys). A first order change would be to simply add more questions to your customer surveys. First order change can result in improvements but when a process is stuck, second order change is the often the only thing that will allow a breakthrough result.