Monday, June 03, 2002

Games People Play. Mike and I have been playing tag in our recent entries. I come in from left field with a new topic, he follows, then changes it and I follow. In this spirit I'll augment his last entry on software process improvement by discussing two books that provide foundation knowledge and skills for any process improvement initiative.

Understanding the Essentials of the Six Sigma Quality Initiative is a short book that does one thing and does it well - clearly explains what Six Sigma is and why it's important. It accomplishes this in less than 100 pages, making it a succinct guides to a highly complex topic.

Practitioners will find the material too basic, but business managers will find it sufficient to see the value of a Six Sigma initiative. It's also useful for communicating an initiative and its importance to employees who are not directly involved, but need to be on board to imbue it into the corporate culture.

It devotes the first 35 pages to explaining the what's and why's in clear, non-technical prose, and the rest of the book covers the how's by explaining each of the tools that are used to achieve Six Sigma. Each tool, ranging from Analysis of Variance to Team Development, is quickly described at a high level, with all key factors and a brief summary of what it is and how to use it.

If you are a member of the organizational implementation team I recommend that this book used to communicate the reasons for the initiative and what Six Sigma will mean to your organization to employees. If you have a direct role in Six Sigma and your statistics are rusty I recommend augmenting this book with Visual Statistics by Jack R. Fraenkel, Enoch I. Sawin and Norman E. Wallen.

I've struggled with statistics for years, and had resigned myself to continuing that struggle until I read this wonderful book. Where most books assume that you remember lessons from high school this one starts from scratch. It also differs from other books by teaching you how statistics work instead of force feeding you formulas that you learn by rote, but do not impart an understanding of how statistics work.

I like the way that this book uses illustrations and clearly describes the 'whys' to make statistics come alive. Shortly after I started reading this book (which is actually interesting!), I began seeing the significance of data distributions, relationships and dependencies. This not only will improve your understanding of statistics, but also gives you the confidence to tackle problems that may have intimidated you or were beyond your knowledge level.

If you need to quickly refresh your knowledge and skills, or want to understand statistics instead of crunching formulas, this book is a fast way to get there.

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