Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why experiment?

Last week I presented a one-day workshop on design of experiments (DOE) to a diverse group of Six Sigma black-belt candidates at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Having done this many times before, I’ve grown accustomed to some ‘aliens-in-the-headlights’ looks when I put these students to the test of actually doing an in-class experiment on paper helicopters. Once an accountant pulled me aside to say that something must be wrong with his team’s experiment because the results varied – some ‘copters clearly flew better than others. I realized then that the whole concept must be unclear to those with no background in science or engineering.

Therefore, for last week’s presentation I prepared an ‘icebreaker’ on why experimentation may be needed. I wrote these three words on the marker-board before class: “Desperation,” “Domination,” and “Doubt.”

Desperation from the Great Depression motivated Franklin Delano Roosevelt to say “Try something. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn't, try something else. But above all, try something.”

Domination is what Google gains by their practice of experimenting “quickly and often” as noted in a blog by John Hunter (son of DOE guru and ASQC Statistics Division founder Bill Hunter). What if you could test not just one factor at a time, but many? You can via two-level factorial designs!

Doubt is engraved in the lobby floor of Fisher College’s Pfahl Hall where I taught my class. It says “Who doubts nothing, knows nothing.”

I hope these three reasons sufficed to inspire this crop of black belt candidates to give experimentation a try.


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