When to Fear the Sudden Fall

When there is a sharp drop off down from a cliff, we instinctively fear the heights and the risk. The same emotions kick in when the stock market indexes fall, triggering a fear of loss. And there are other applications where you should worry about the sudden drop in your trend lines.

A sudden spike on a statistical process control chart may be an outlier if it only happens once. Repeated spikes or a new plateau represent a problem, though whether with the machine or incoming product requires further study.

An unexpected shift in customer satisfaction levels and similar marketing metrics means there is a problem, though whether your marketing campaign went unexpectedly viral or the new product release bombed requires asking more questions.

A dramatic change in cycle time represents a problem if it wasn’t planned, such as a shift in the product mix or new personnel training. Are key staff occupied and leaving machines waiting for material or unloading of completed product? Is equipment breaking down? Has some critical item gone offline, leading to a bottleneck?

Sharp drops in profits can occur when there is a major increase in expenses like a legal settlement or financial charge off or sales dropped off significantly. Any sudden drop you didn’t expect is a threat to your business’ survival.

Sudden drops and spikes in IT metrics may represent hack attacks taking up all the bandwidth or someone copying your database before taking it with them. Any dramatic and unexpected shifts in key IT metrics should be investigated by system administrators – and if you weren’t planning maintenance or found a major problem like a downed server or super-user consuming all the resources, IT security.

Sudden changes can happen and sometimes do, but we need to pay attention to them as often as we do gradual changes in order to prevent the fall from becoming a crash landing, in any application.

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