October  2015     Edition 6
Beating the Odds - Changing the Equation


Beating the odds is of course statistically irrational

; however in this edition we’ll look at ways of changing things so the new odds are more favorable.

Remember Captain Kirk in the Wrath of Kahn

, he was trapped in the middle of some planet having a conversation about the “no win scenario”.  Kirk was the only Star Fleet Cadet to ever beat “The Kobayashi Maru”, a test where there was absolutely no way to win.  Asked how, and Kirk replied that he “reprogrammed the computer so he could win”.   “You Cheated” was the reaction, and Kirk replied, “I changed the condition of the test!”   Beating the odds is all about changing the condition that created the odds.   Here is how …

Example Headscratcher

:  How can you improve the accuracy and quality of performed tasks?   Examples include: billing; delivering what was ordered; software quality; reducing re-work based on mistakes and errors; accounting; technical support, to name a few.

Calculate the odds:

  Probabilities is a math calculation, it’s a non-negotiable equation.  Let’s say that there are 50 steps to produce a result.  Each step has a 99.9% accuracy level.   That’s 999 out of 1000 accurate.   (Not a great number in an automated manufacturing environment, but pretty good in a software environment or manual order entry).  With 50 steps however, the overall accuracy is only 95.12 %.  That’s 1 out of 20 in error; poor results for sure.    

Usually the next step is to pound the desk,

and declare that results need to get 10 times more accurate. i.e. 99.99 percent accuracy for each step.  (Try typing 10,000 words and make only 1 error).  Even if this goal can be achieved, collectively it only gets you to 99.5 percent or 1 error in 200, much better, but still not that great.   Of course, you should look to improve the steps.  Pick the low hanging fruit, the steps that are really troublesome.    Look to automation and make it virtually impossible to error on some of the steps.  Create smart data entry scripts that will do real-time look ups and consistency checks while information is being entered.   These will get you incremental improvements … but for innovative improvements, here are a few other ways.

Beat the Odds by Changing the Odds

.  If you change the equation then the odds will change as well … its math.   One way to change the equation is to eliminate some of the steps, reduce the handoffs, and combine steps.   Another way to change the equation is to build in redundancy or failover for breaks in the process.

Expect the Error. 

People make errors, equipment fails, it’s going to happen.  So instead of continuously spending resources to prevent every error, put in checks during the process to catch and fix the errors midstream and real-time.   Assume something is going to go wrong and put in the process to fix it when it does.  How much to invest in this is a calculation on the cost of a net error at the end, verses catching and repairing it during the process.   In almost all cases, catching an error early is an order of magnitude better (cheaper, efficient, etc), then catching it at the end.

The Takeaway:
   All processes have steps with measurable failure rates.   Do the math, and understand the equation that guides the odds.   Once done, change the equation.   This approach will improve accuracy and yields, as well as performance, product development, time to market, and profitability.   Improving the process will yield better results, but changing the process, i.e. the equation, is where the breakthrough will occur.

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