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The mode is the number which appears most frequently in a set of numbers. For a finite data set, as in a sample of measurements, the mode would be the number that appears the greatest number of times.

In a distribution curve, the mode is the number that corresponds to the highest point of the curve.

In continuous improvement, the mode can be used as an indicator of the general tendency of a process, machine, etc.

How can this be applied? Consider that most processes will display a skewed distribution for the cycle time. There is a ‘normal’ time the process takes. Sometimes, an operator might beat the time, but rarely by very much. There is only so fast an operator can go. If there was a better process, it would be done all the time. On the other hand, when an operator misses cycle time, it can be by just a few seconds, or substantially longer. In this situation, the mode is a good indicator of repeatability.

Generally speaking, if you reduce the number of problems, the value of the mode will stay the same, but have a higher frequency. In effect, you are simply stripping the delays off the values from the tail. If you improve the speed of a process, the mode will shift.

Knowing the mode in this situation will help you with your planning. You can determine, for example, how to staff appropriately to handle the normal work and how many people (i.e. floaters) you might need to handle problems.

Multiple Modes

When dealing with a finite data set, it is common to run across ‘ties’ in which there are two (or more) numbers occurring with the same frequency. In this case you would have more than one mode.

If, however, no number occurs multiple times, there is no mode.

Similar Terms

Mode is generally used in conjunction with median (the middle value), and the mean (average). Those three terms, taken together, can give good insight into the data set. Taken alone, each offers only a small portion of the information you need to make decisions.


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