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Questioning Statistics   


As a leader, you are probably presented with new statistics regarding the day-to-day operations of your organization on a regular basis.  One of the most common statistics you are likely to encounter is the average.  The average or "mean" is the sum of all measurements in a data set divided by the total number of measurements contained in that data set.  The key to understanding an average is to delve deeper and ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of what the numbers are telling you.


The next time you need to make sense of an average, ask these 2 questions:

  • What is the Size of the Population?  The population is all of the objects, measurements, individuals, etc. in the entire data set.  Knowing the size of your population may influence the way you think about the average. For example, the average of 2 monthly sales figures is likely to mean something quite different than the average of 12 monthly sales figures.
  • Are There Any Outliers?  An outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data. Sometimes, outliers can skew the average so that it does not accurately represent the data.  For example, if your organization manufactures 300 products every day for 6 days but only produces 15 products on the 7th day, the average number of products produced per day that week may not accurately represent the number of products you produce on a daily basis.
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