Business Intelligence and Six Sigma

Posted by Karthikeyan Sankaran
Comments (1)
January 28th, 2008

I just finished a Six Sigma project and was left wondering as to why BI practitioners are not using more of that Six Sigma power in Business Intelligence. Let me delve on this subject a bit more.

The Six Sigma project that I just completed was on “Developing a Function Point based estimation model for ETL loads”. Essentially, I was facing a lot of problems in estimating the effort for ETL (in this case, Informatica) loads that led to “Effort variances” beyond specified limits. So we kicked off a Six Sigma project that had the following DMAIC phases:

1. Define – Definition of the problem (Ex: Estimation process is out of whack)

2. Measure – We measured the effort variances before the start of the project and also set ourselves a target of where it should be.

3. Analyze – Analyzed the root-cause of the problem. The solution was to let go of the complexity based estimation that was done initially and to adapt Function points. In fact, this FP based estimation model was presented at the International Software Estimation Colloquium last year and won the Runner-up prize (

4. Improve – Based on a pilot within the project, the Function points based linear regression model was arrived at and the team was educated on the estimation process. The improvements to the estimation process (effort variances) were measured on a regular basis.

5. Control – Periodic checks to ensure the institutionalization of the process and also fine-tune wherever necessary.

That in a nut-shell is what my Six Sigma project was all about. Basically, Six Sigma tries to improve process efficiencies by following the phases mentioned above.

Now let’s see the connection to Business Intelligence. Analytics at this stage of evolution (in majority of organizations) are being used to find the improvement area at a given point of time. The improvement area can be a problem (Ex: Trend chart showing that the Sales in the West region is dropping by 10% every quarter for the last 3 quarters) or an opportunity (Ex: Market potential for a product is huge and our share is small). BI is reasonably good at providing this information and it will only get better. But BI by itself does not enforce the process / execution rigor that is required for successful organizations.

To summarize, Six Sigma needs an improvement opportunity as the starting point for it to unleash its power to improve processes. BI generates lot of these opportunities with its DW/Reporting/Analytics components but does not enforce the process implementation rigor. I feel that there is lot of synergy in bringing both together – Six Sigma, the left hand and BI, the right hand when brought together can earn a lot of claps in the quest to create learning, performing organizations.

Just to sample the power of Six Sigma techniques, please take a look at the following link:, which illustrates the use of control charts (one of Six Sigma’s potent tools) in metrics / KPI management. Fascinating!

Agree / Not Agree, Have more thoughts on this topic, this post is good / rubbish, for anything – Please do send in your comments.

Information Nugget:Having talked about execution rigor, let me recommend one of the best books I have read in that area. “Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan (

Comments (1)

Ravikiran Dharmavaram - January 28th, 2008

Karthik, I agree with you about the aspect of improving process efficiency by enforcing Six Sigma in BI world.In my personal view , from Business Prospective its a huge cost to invest in these initiatives as the tangible benifts of such implementation cannot be measured and benifitted in short span, it takes long time to see the immense benifits and requires a team of people with strong functional knowledge and expertise in implementing six sigma , Cost benifit ratio and return of investment will make it difficult to implement these initiatives in BI world.

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