Are your improvement efforts being deceived by the average?

Posted by on Nov 24, 2012 in Continuous Improvement, Creativity, Customer Satisfaction, Lean Six Sigma, Process Improvement | 0 comments

In his recent book, The 4-Hour Chef, Timothy Ferriss talks about the documentary, Objectified, where Dan Formosa, PhD, then with Smart Design’s research department, explained one of the first steps in its innovation process:

“We have clients come to us and say, “Here is our average customer.”  For instance, “Female, she is 34 years old, she has 2.3 kids,” and we listen politely and say, “Well, that’s great, but we don’t care…about that person.”  What we really need to do, to design, is look at the extremes.  The weakest, or the person with arthritis, or the athlete, or the strongest, the fastest person, because if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.”

In other words, the extremes inform the mean, but not vice versa.  The “average user” can be deceptive or even meaningless, just as all averages can be.

When looking at data, the first thing we want to do is plot it, not to determine the average, but too look at the extremes and determine what makes them different.  What set of conditions created the max condition vs those at the other extreme?  How can we shift our process to the more desired state?  Doing this will excite our customers and keep them coming back time after time.

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