Why Six Sigma fails to work in media
In “You Don’t Understand Our Audience,” John Hockenberry writes about his time while working with NBC on Dateline NBC and the things he had learned from his time there.
It is quite a long piece and I don’t have the time to go through all the points, but there is one bit that stands out in it, which has bothered me (being someone who started out as a journalist) for a while now:
While Six Sigma’s goal-oriented blather and obsession with measuring everything was jarring, it was also weirdly familiar, inasmuch as it was strikingly reminiscent of my college Maoism I class. Mao seemed to be a good model for Jack Welch and his Six Sigma foot soldiers; Six Sigma’s “Champions” and “Black Belts” were Mao’s “Cadres” and “Squad Leaders.”
While quantifying results, targets and every possible variable is almost a given in any operation, it is, perhaps, not best applied in a news or a media environment. It may look like commonsense that results may not always be in line with effort in a news operation for most media people (read journalists, producers etc), the same is not what can be said about top level executives who are not from a media background.
The reasons are quite simple:
- 20% of your top-performing content will always do well, irrespective of the incremental effort you put into it. This segment will always have lousy marginal productivity, since the story by itself will do well.
- The bottom 20% of your content will always suck and never do well, even if you were to break your head against the wall and also the heads of the rest of your editorial team. This segment is a place where you have no business putting anything more than your cursory effort into.
- The middle 30% is where your hidden gems are often to be found. If you need to make something like Sig Sigma work, you need to consider this 60% as the 100% subset you got to work with.
Obviously, for a top level executive who has seen Six Sigma work wonders across the production line, it is an impossible situation to fathom that you can’t eliminate all inefficiencies when your primary product is something that has inefficiencies which can’t be eliminated.