Know How to Measure, and You’re Halfway to a Solution

Know How to Measure, and You’re Halfway to a Solution

This is part 2 of a five-part series on Six Sigma practices for the automotive industry. Read part 1 here.

After the Define phase is complete, the rest of the story continues to come together. In this second phase of DMAIC, the Measure phase, your primary objective is to create a higher resolution picture of the current state. Throughout the process, it is important to remember that until the fourth phase of DMAIC, the Improve phase, the project focus remains only on the current state of things.

The criteria and descriptions  — including your Problem statement and your Goal statement — determined in the Define phase pave the way for Measure phase. To better understand the problem and all consequential conditions, your project team must work toward the identification of key metrics. These key metrics are necessary to explain relationships between potential factors, which are components of the specific process, and what their functions are in the outcome.

Measure Your Symptoms, Not Your Causes.

If that sounds puzzling, think about this: when you discuss health issues with your physician, your doctor usually begins  by only asking questions about your symptoms. He doesn’t begin his investigation by asking questions about possible causes that might explain the symptoms.

Six Sigma’s DMAIC takes that same approach. In the Define phase, the project team only focuses on symptoms, or defects in this context. Once sufficient information has been collected the symptoms,  you turn your efforts toward measuring factors that are relevant to those symptoms. In the Measure phase, your primary goal is to precisely measure such factors which are believed to be relevant while creating a measurement system that relies on repeatable and consistently reproducible methods.

Carefully Collect Your Data.

During the Measure phase, you’ll perform data collection and data organization. As was the case with Define phase, no data collected in this phase should be opinion-based. Also, all data must be stated using standardized units.

A strong data collection plan is an essential item during the Measure phase. It helps shed light on areas of your process that may offer opportunities for greater efficiency and solutions . When you prepare your data collection plan, keep in mind that someone else will read, interpret, and perform them. Data collection plans that involve multiple data collectors require very clear and scientific descriptions of measurement steps. You must also ensure consistency in the data collected from multiple sources.

In a properly prepared data collection plan, the data collection team will discover answers to questions such as:

  • What is measured?
  • What type of data will be collected?
  • How should you measure?
  • What instruments will be used?
  • What are possible related conditions, which could effect the data collection?
  • What is the method by which the data should be recorded?
  • How will consistency be ensured through multiple runs?
  • What is the plan to start collecting data?
  • How will the data be displayed?

It is common that a request for data lacks more than half the answers to those questions. When that happens, you run the risk of generating inconsistent results. Be sure to answer as many of these questions as possible, and in as thorough a manner as you can.

Conveniently, this same guideline is also valid when you request that data be collected from the field or from your IT department.

Aim for Continuous Improvement.

Remember that the ultimate goal for your project is to enable continuous improvement within the organization. That means that it is also necessary to allow such improvement within the project itself. After you complete your data collection in the Measure phase, you’ll have a much greater understanding of your current state. In some cases, this understanding creates the opportunity to further your project’s scope and even restate key items from Define phase. Such instances often give way to a more accurate description of the problem . Greater accuracy leads to a more precise use of resources, which in turn creates more efficient project activity. Project leaders should take advantage of new data and should consider updating prior phases when the opportunity arises. It is important to take time to think and discuss next steps prior to execution. That is why projects tend to remain in Define phase and return to Define phase many times before any solution is suggested.

In the next phase, Analyze, you will interpret detailed information on the current state. You’ll explain and investigate your process to make sense of the possible connections between the factors identified in previous phases and the outcome resulting in the observed symptoms.


photo credit: marking white room wall with pencil and measuring tape via photopin (license)

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