Entering the World of Designed Experimentation



experiments.jpgWhat comes to mind when you hear "The Scientific Method"?

I'd like to offer a simple definition: The method we use to find things out. In other words, it’s how we increase our knowledge about a given system. In any situation, if you've truly increased your knowledge sufficiently, you should be able to describe the problem and solution using numbers. 

Think about your last completed project. Do you feel like you were able to describe it using numbers? Or, if you manage others, consider the last few projects from your direct reports. Did they conclude with describing the problem and solution using numbers? In either case, was the scientific method used in a way to attain sufficient knowledge to make accurate and sustainable predictions about the future?

I've spent the last decade studying how we can find things out more efficiently and solve problems so they do not come back. In your efforts, do you ever feel like your strategy involves the word “hope” at some point? If you find yourself crossing your fingers when it comes time to turn the process back on, take the advice of a mentor of mine who often said, “Hope is not a good strategy.” We need a better approach!

To gain sufficient knowledge, we must have two rare things come together simultaneously: a perceptive observer and a significant event. A rare, critical thinker must be present during a rare knowledge-generating event in order to take advantage of that opportunity and turn it into useable information for the future.

George Box used the discovery of champagne to illustrate this point, which is summarized in a fantastic YouTube video.  For a more modern example, the perceptive observer could be a Six Sigma trained professional and the significant event could be the quantification of oven temperature and speed on the curing of a certain resin. In either case, without a perceptive observer, no insightful information would be obtained. And without a significant event, there would be no opportunity to learn.

It is the responsibility of the individuals involved to be perceptive observers and to utilize critical thinking to evaluate the given scenario and determine what to do next. I would love the ability to prescribe a specific procedure to all our problems, but unfortunately that is not possible for the complex world we live in. Through additional training in designed experimentation, anyone can broaden their skillset to better identify the appropriate tool to answer project questions. As Ben Franklin is said to have stated, an experiment is like an invitation for an informative event to occur.

The good news is there are multiple possible paths an experimenter can take to reach an equally good solution in the end – as long as the questions lead and answers follow. And, if you find you are not getting the answers you desire, you probably need to change the question!

I believe we live in a world where outcomes are a function of some given number of critical inputs. Therefore, we require the ability to study as many factors as possible in an efficient manner while not being misled. The statistical methods developed by R. A. Fisher during the 1920s and 1930s and then built upon by others show us how to accomplish this feat. We can use Full and Fractional Factorials, for example, to learn quickly about the inputs we believe are important to our process. Luckily, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants, leveraging proven techniques, to find real effects and uncover the truth about the systems we are trying to study.

If diving into the world of designed experimentation is intriguing to you or your direct reports, I encourage you to join us at our upcoming Introduction to Design of Experiments course in July for the opportunity to further discuss these concepts. For those who have already started their journeys in Six Sigma or planned experimentation, be on the lookout for my follow-up blog discussing more advanced concepts which also are covered in our Advanced DOE class.

If you are not local and would still like to add to the conversation, please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or at inquiry@the-center.org.


Welsh_Anthony-web.jpgAnthony Welsh, Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Anthony 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 www.the-center.org.

Categories: Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma