Punting on the Voice of the Process

Not meeting your specifications...a football story

August 27, 2009

As the saying goes, "Everything is bigger in Texas," and that certainly applies to the scoreboard in the Dallas Cowboys' new $1.2 billion stadium. It's the world's largest 1080p LED Scoreboard with a total screen area of over 11,000 sq ft., and it actually spans the distance from 20 yard line to 20 yard line (over 159ft)!

What's the problem with this modern technological marvel that cost over $40 million dollars? It's too low! In one of the first NFL games played in the Cowboys new stadium, the Tennessee Titan's punter boomed his kick right off the scoreboard.

But how can that be since it was set to the specifications of the NFL, hung at least 90ft above the field? It looks like there are a few things we can learn from this blunder that directly apply to the world of Lean Six Sigma.

Know where your specifications come from and their applicability to today's environment.

In the case of the NFL's specifications for scoreboard height, understanding how they were developed could have gone a long way. Were these specifications developed using data that represent today's environment? Years ago punters could not kick the ball as high as they do today. Were these specifications developed in relation to a "normal" sized scoreboard, not one that spans 60 yards of the field? Trusting specifications blindly is dangerous — know where they came from and what voice of the customer or process data was used to develop them.

We may live in a "world of averages," but be prepared for the tail!

The average height of an NFL punt may only be 80 ft, but any good Lean Six Sigma course will teach you that averages only tell you part of the story. The tail of your distribution has the potential to cause big problems. In this case, understanding the maximum height of the most skilled punters proves to be a more critical piece of data.

A simple experiment goes a long way.

Rumor has it Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn't even use his own punter to collect data and verify the accuracy of the NFL specifications. He could have learned from the Indianapolis Colts, who, before erecting their giant scoreboard before last year's season, ran experiments using their punter. After a quick analysis the Colts decided to hang their replay screens on the wall.

As a Washington Redskins' fan, few things give me more pleasure than hearing about the miscues of my team's long time rival. It makes it even better when I can write about in the context of Lean Six Sigma and share it with you.

Chris Paret