Six Sigma Geekdom

Over the weekend, a friend of mine asked me for help regarding his seriously declining financial situation. He has many loans and credit card bills, and doesn’t have enough income to cover the total of minimum payments and other things like rent and food. So, I suggested some specific tactics that he could use to begin digging out of the hole he has created for himself. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized the profound influence the Six Sigma philosophy has over everything I do.

As always, measurement validation figured prominently in the advice I had offered (although I didn’t realize it at the time). When I looked at the monthly budget line item he had labeled ‘Miscellaneous – $200’, my first reaction was to question the measurement system. I suggested to my friend that he begin logging and tracking all expenditures, because he can’t start figuring out what to fix unless he knows what he is actually spending  on ‘Miscellaneous’. We also need detailed data (rather than summary data) to diagnose the issues and reduce the amount of this budget line item.  Once again, characterizing the current state of the process with valid data is the first step towards improvement.

Another suggestion I made was to create a bar chart showing his total debt, and then track the monthly decline in the payoff balances as he makes payments. Not only does this provide visual feedback as to the size of the problem, it also provides motivation – the good feeling you get from seeing the bar get smaller. In essence, this is a scorecard where the Vital ‘x’ being tracked is ‘debt magnitude’. (The ‘y’ is ‘financial stability’, by the way). There still could be other x’s out there driving the variability in his financial stability, but debt is an obvious one that needs to be controlled. The data my friend gathers on his spending habits can be used to dig into the other potential x’s driving his situation, once the baseline data collection is complete.

Does this make me a Six Sigma geek for unconsciously gravitating to the DMAIC methodology to resolve personal issues? I guess it does. But I firmly believe that the Six Sigma approach is the right way to solve ANY process problem, be it personal- or business-related.

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