Life Lessons from “Design for Lean Six Sigma” - Measure (Part Two)

Photo courtesy: The Author

Photo courtesy: The Author

By Kolawole Ayinuola, PhD

This week, we are continuing our journey through the DMEDI (Define, Measure, Explore, Develop, Implement) methodology of the Six Sigma process by looking at the Measure phase. (Read my first post on the Define phase.) By implementing the principles of Measure into our daily life, we have the tools we need to achieve our dreams and life goals—one measured, tracked step at a time.

Lean Six Sigma “Measure” phase essentials

Employing Six Sigma concepts to new process/product development requires a higher upfront investment of resources than traditional development processes. A high percentage of this upfront investment is utilized in the Measure phase to gain an in-depth understanding of the Voice of the Customer (VOC). VOC plan details rely on recent or historical data to answer critical questions for the product design.

Think about it. A new process/product that encompasses more delighters (unspoken customer needs) than Basic needs (spoken customer wants) will capture a higher market share (exponential returns) because it creates more value for the customer. Often, customer wants/needs are not things we can directly measure. Thus, we must convert these abstract wants into measurable Critical Customer Requirements (CCRs) for the process/product design. This is where the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) tool comes in. The QFD  is a powerful tool that translates the Voice of the Customer into measurable CCRs. In addition, it measures the interrelationship between the different CCRs so that you can observe strong/weak correlations (or inverse relationships) between CCRs. This is important because, if there are two strongly correlated CCRs, we only need to devote resources to track one of them over the course of the project.

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I like Measure as a step in the process because it makes me take stock of where I am, where I need to be, and what I must do to get there from here. It compels me to have an honest evaluation of my abilities, and deficiencies, and that can be a very humbling yet rewarding process.

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Lean Six Sigma “Measure”: Application to life

For our life project, our VOC represents those attributes and skills we need for a successful realization of our mission. We may not be able to pinpoint specific attributes on our own, but we can look to mentors and role models (team members) for guidance. Yes, life is a team sport. But it is not enough to solely identify these attributes; we need to make sure they become part of our life design. For instance, if empathy is one of our desirable product attributes, we can translate this into the measurable CCR of listening. All things being equal, an adept listener will be a person of great empathy. So how do we measure listening? To gain a measurable skill, we must seek experiences that immerse us in the skill we are attempting to gain, rather than one that merely gives us information. For instance, to improve my listening skills, I enrolled in Toastmasters Leadership Track. This track was designed to take its participants through several projects in listening and leadership, critical thinking, motivation, and mentoring. On completion of ten of these projects, I had numerous opportunities to hone my listening skills through a variety of practical projects aptly tailored to meet the requirements for a Competent Leadership Award. Soft skills are difficult to measure in an absolute sense, but we can develop a quasi-measurement system using the same learning process employed to gain hard skills: instruction and practice. In doing this, we gain experiential competence in the soft skills/attributes desired.

Personal attributes are like muscles

Roy Baumeister, a Professor of Psychology, details a similar approach to improving willpower in his book on the subject. He opines that willpower, like a muscle, can be strengthened through a carefully planned workout regimen. Forming a habit for seemingly mundane tasks like brushing our teeth before bed or consciously saying ”Yes” instead of “Yeah” invariably improves our willpower for the more difficult life situations. He also observed that, like muscles, willpower can be worked to exhaustion. So, go easy on yourself!

Whatever gets measured, gets improved

Measurement is key to improvement. Once we have translated all our VOCs to CCRs, we create a Scorecard to track the progress made on the different CCRs and key business metrics. From time to time, we can see how we are faring on the critical attributes we've identified as vital to our life mission. The Measure phase is probably my favorite in the DMEDI process because it forces you to include CCRs (measurable life skills) that are based on carefully synthesized VOC data (vital attributes) at the beginning of a project. This saves us valuable time and resources in the latter stages of the project and eliminates guesswork. It is not enough to develop products with quality finish and finesse. If it is not the right product, it will end up in the garbage heap of exercise in futility. I like Measure as a step in the process because it makes me take stock of where I am, where I need to be, and what I must do to get there from here. It compels me to have an honest evaluation of my abilities, and deficiencies, and that can be a very humbling yet rewarding process.

What dreams do you have? What skills or resources do you need to pull them out of your head and into the real world? Have you taken stock? How are you tracking progress? Let me know in the comments below!