Op Ex & Lean Six Sigma

Black Belt Not Required: Where Did You Learn How to Drive?

Data-driven management yields valuable business metrics to support your team's accomplishments. The key is to identify the types of data needed, using practicality as a watchword.

By Penelope Przekop, MSQA, CQM

Drive thy business; let it not drive thee.

—Benjamin Franklin



Managing work based on facts and data makes sense. Rounding out the basic Six Sigma concepts of process focus, customer focus and collaboration, managing by data solidifies an approach that can be applied to any scope of work – including yours. The key is to identify the types of data needed, according to your unique responsibilities and goals.

When you set out to manage using data, it must be practical. There must be a balance between the effort involved and the value that is added to your personal organization. When striving to achieve business excellence, data should be the final determinant but collecting and analyzing the data must be worth the effort for each process and deliverable under consideration. You must pick and choose which processes are critical to success, which steps are critical to quality, and which processes, steps, or deliverables should have associated data.

Most likely, you won’t have the time or resources needed to evaluate everything using data. And that’s okay! Six Sigma was never intended to be an academic exercise; it is intended to bring results to your company, your personal organization and you. We must do what makes sense to do and nothing more. There is certainly a place for gut feelings, intuition and decision-making based on experience in our day-to-day world. Facts, however, are irrefutable.

Managers should evaluate their own business situations to determine where facts are critical for moving the business forward; seeking buy-in from suppliers, customers, or higher management; or simply improving processes. When focusing on your own scope of work, the most basic data collection plan centers on identifying and measuring quality and compliance for your key deliverables, which are most often internal deliverables.

This is particularly true for straightforward internal processes that have clear deliverables with clear time frames. Timeliness is the easier of the two to measure. Quality metrics are a bit more challenging to define and measure but can prove extremely valuable over time. Quality and compliance data can serve as control data for a process that’s been improved; however, depending on the complexity of your processes, it may make sense to begin evaluating the quality and compliance of your “as-is” process even if you’re thinking that it doesn’t need improvement.

Key to Six Sigma is process improvement, and the point of business excellence is improving business all around. With this in mind, you’ve come full circle to the bottom line in Six Sigma. Identify your key processes, measure them, analyze the measurements, improve the processes and then keep them under control. All this means is that if you have a very straightforward process, you can still measure, analyze, and improve it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A good Data Collection Plan consists of the following:
  • What you are going to measure and the data sources
  • Clear definitions for each metric you intend to collect
  • A data collection process
  • A sampling plan
  • Data collection forms or spreadsheets
  • Explanation of how you intend to analyze the data collected.
Remembering that you may or may not have specific support for this work, creating a data collection plan within your personal organization should be reduced to simple steps and documentation. The criticality of documenting the plan grows with the number of people involved, and whether or not you want or need to present the information formally. It’s up to you; the bottom line is that you and the others involved understand what is happening and why.

By implementing processes that allow for data-driven management, you will create valuable business metrics to support the accomplishments of your team. Accomplishments backed by data will impress not only your current supervisor but also those considering you for higher levels of responsibility. Business metrics provide proof that you can handle responsibility, impact the organization, and get the job at hand accomplished. Data allows your personal organization to stand out in the crowd; it proves that you know how to get results.

Accomplishments are vague if not supported by data. There is power in numbers! For example, how do you know that you streamlined your process? How do you know that you improved the quality of your deliverables? As you move forward in your career and wish to take on added responsibilities, implement additional changes, or gain a higher position in a new company, you will need to instill confidence in the decision makers. Data-driven management places you in the best position to do just that.

Remember: this is not a cookie-cutter approach; it must be applied in a logical and practical way to your particular business processes, goals and objectives, and organizational structure. This is your job – get in the driver’s seat!

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