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How to Better your Software App with 6 Sigma

Knowing what your customer wants and being critical of your product idea is the first step in becoming a successful product owner. According to The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau, to have a successful product you need three things:

  1. A customer
  2. Something they will pay for
  3. A way to get paid

Figuring out the “something they will pay for” can be a challenge for many of us, but once you have an idea, you then need to decide if it is good enough to market test and invest in. If you don’t know where to start, I find that leveraging simple and straight forward analysis methodologies as a good way to focus, and to critically evaluate an idea. I particularly like the tools from 6 Sigma, a process improvement methodology, to investigate, validate and improve a custom software concept before taking it to the next level. The three analysis tools that I use most often are:

  1. CTQ
  2. 5-Why Analysis
  3. Pareto’s Law


CTQ stands for Critical to Quality. The idea behind CTQ is to interview your customers, or potential customers, and compile a list of their complaints or frustrations. This is also known as the Voice of the Customer or VOC. By reversing these complaints, you can find out what is Critical to Quality (CTQ) or in this case, important for your product to solve.

Even if you don’t yet have a software product idea, listening to people’s daily frustrations and thinking about how a web or mobile app could help is a good way to come up with one! You can further extract this to your every day life. When you are frustrated or wonder why something doesn’t happen the way you think it should, you are identifying your own CTQ’s, and potential opportunities for a future product.

An example frustration may be that employees are always late to meetings. Your CTQ is that meetings should start on time. How might you create a product that can get meetings to start on time? If you have some initial ideas, great! But keep reading as we will first dig a little deeper.

5 Why’s Analysis

The 5 Why’s analysis starts by taking one of the problem statements from your Voice of the Customer and then asks the question “Why?” five times.

The reason the 5 why’s is needed is that we have a tendency to rush to a solution without spending enough time in understanding the complexity and nature of the problem.

We are all busy, and It feels good to mark a problem as done and move on, but in custom software creation, without understanding the real root cause, you may be inventing a bandaid or distraction rather than a real solution.

Here is a possible set of 5 Why’s for our late to meetings example. Your answers may be different than mine.

  1. Why are people late to meetings? Because their previous meeting ran late.
  2. Why did their meeting run late? Because a lot people were talking in the meeting and didn’t get to finish.
  3. Why were a lot of people talking and didn’t get to finish? Because there wasn’t a meeting agenda.
  4. Why was there not a meeting agenda? Because the meeting coordinator did not create one.
  5. Why did the meeting coordinator not create an agenda? Because he does not know how to do it, or that he should do it, or he didn’t have time to create one.

How could you create a mobile app or software product that educates an employee on how to create a meeting agenda, simplifies the tasks of creating a meeting agenda, and reminds employees at the appropriate time to create a meeting agenda?

Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. It states that 80% of the results or outputs are achieved by 20% of the inputs. With regards to creating a new software product, this means that 20% of your functionality will create 80% of the value for your customers. Pareto’s principle is important because it allows us to focus on the high impact features or functions of a product and not get distracted by bells and whistles that increase cost and delay time to market.

Experienced product managers understand Pareto’s Principle, but better know it as MVP or minimum Viable Product. The idea behind MVP is that you take away every feature and function that is not absolutely necessary in delivering the core value or purpose of the product. Once you can no longer take anything else away, you have your MVP. For example, without real-time phone notifications, does your product becomes useless? Maybe for a mobile auction app, but not for a meeting agenda template.

The value behind MVP and Pareto’s Principle is that it gets you to focus on the core reason for your software application, and not be distracted by features and functions that perhaps seem appealing, but in reality don’t matter. Once a product is released, customers are certain to offer feedback in the way of suggestions or complaints. This feedback can then be used to drive another round of CTQ, 5 Why’s and MVP analysis for further evaluating and improving your product. It is better to get real feedback on what is truly needed by your customer than to guess, spend the time and energy to develop, and then get it wrong.

Although 6 Sigma is designed to help manufacturing processes achieve almost zero defects, it also contains many great tools to simplify problem solving and to be critical in creating software product solutions. It is a check and balance. Generating great ideas for products is a creative process, but verifying and testing a mobile app or web product idea before investing your time and money is an analytical process. Analysis methodologies like 6 Sigma offer a disciplined way to take a step back before taking two steps forward.

What are some of your favorite analysis tools and methodologies? Please comment!

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