Creating a Data Driven Culture of Thinking

Can a simple mathematical formula create a culture to drive improvement within the organization? Over the course of four articles, I think you’ll see that more predictable results and ongoing customer satisfaction can be obtained through critical thinking and data.
The formula, I am referring to is Y = f(x) + N.
It contains no magic but a great deal of power. For some, maybe a little anxiety if you didn’t like math class, but I promise it won’t hurt you! This formula is simply a combination of the right outputs, critical inputs and some amount of noise.
The customer determines the criteria of success. If you make their ongoing satisfaction your goal, you can ensure your success. Some customers communicate these criteria up front and consciously seek out the products and services that deliver, while others just know when the product or service feels right and are satisfied. It’s your job to determine what success looks like in the eyes of the customer.
The key to obtaining ongoing customer satisfaction is to proactively gather data on their criteria rather than waiting for the customer to tell you how things went. For example, if things go well at the end of the month, but you don’t understand why, how will that help you make sure next month also goes well? 
To quote Peter Senge, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization's ability to learn faster than the competition.” This parallels what we’re trying to accomplish. If we had the required knowledge, we could be intentional with our decisions and focus on what we can control.
An important piece of Six Sigma training is teaching our minds to think differently. If it was just about the tools, every belt would be equally effective, but unfortunately that’s not what happens. You can’t solve a problem with the same type of thinking that created it. 
We must ask questions first and allow answers to follow.  We should be perceptive observers looking for signals where none may be expected and think critically about each situation to then evaluate potential sources of bias (I will expand on avoiding bias in a future article).  For now, let’s focus on the culture of thinking like Y=f(x) + N.
The formula is read as Y equals f of x, or Y is a function of x. This means that the output (Y) is predictable based on some number of inputs (x). An output is a measurable criterion of how the customer views value, and the inputs are things you can control in your process or product which affect that output. 
Knowing and understanding this equation allows us to get ahead of problems and leads to data driven decisions. Any form of guessing is a recipe for eventually being wrong. This is what I meant when I said success is ongoing customer satisfaction. If knowledge is power, then understanding what the outcome will be based on the active inputs can give us the power we need to stay ahead of any disasters. 
Think back to your last anxiety ridden emergency; if you really understood the y=f(x) of that situation ahead of time, maybe the situation could have gone differently. Sure, it’s interesting to talk about the knowledge you gained going through that experience and you’re smarter today than you were yesterday, but it would be far less painful if we had that understanding before the emergency and could have avoided it.
Now, let’s not be naive, I’m not saying you can predict with 100% certainty what the outcome will be. That’s where the N of the equation comes in. This is the noise, error or random variation that also comes into play. As we all know, real life is noisy. However, we can maximize our chances of being right or at least set limits on the percentage of being wrong. Our job is to find the inputs we can control and determine the best settings, so the noise doesn’t matter. Of course, we’ll work to reduce the noise as much as possible, but that’s a different article.
In Six Sigma training we cover the tools required to efficiently study inputs in the presence of noise. But remember, it’s not just about the tools. Consider your mindset - how prescriptive are you approaching your challenges? Does it always feel like you are reacting to chaos and constantly making trade-off decisions from the hip?
I don’t want lady luck dictating my future and neither should you. Luckily (pun intended), we have better strategies. Watch for future articles where I will expand on each portion of this formula - the outcome, the inputs and the noise.
The Center’s courses combine proven problem-solving methods with powerful statistical tools to construct a reliable roadmap to improve business operations. Learn more about the Six Sigma courses we offer here.
MEET OUR EXPERT: Anthony Welsh, Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Anthony-Welsh-Web.jpgAnthony Welsh is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 20 years of experience delivering projects to both the automotive and consumer products industries. In his role at The Center, Anthony shares expert tools in critical thinking and data-driven decision making to assist clients with using Six Sigma methods to achieve real results.


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Six Sigma