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Common Questions About the DMAIC Improvement Cycle

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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May 23, 2018 8:11:00 AM

Young business man in suit presenting hand drawn question marks-1DMAIC is said to be the Six Sigma methodology’s roadmap to improvement. It is one of the core tools of the approach, but organizations also use it as a standalone improvement technique. We have clients in almost every industry from healthcare to construction who have achieved quantifiable impact against core business metrics by using this technique. Here are some of the questions we get asked about it most often.

What is DMAIC?

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. (It’s pronounced də-MAY-ick.) It is a data-driven technique used to improve business processes.

Define: This step involves creating a precise definition of the business problem and the scope of the planned improvements. The expected results are documented and, in some cases, a formal charter for the improvement plan is created.

Measure: The team decides which outputs will be measured and how frequently. A baseline measurement is documented along with the plan for future measurements. Control charts are commonly introduced as part of this step.

Analyze: The analyze step involves looking for the root cause of the business issue. Often the Six Sigma techniques of the 5 Whys and process mapping are utilized.

Improve: Once the root cause is identified, potential improvements are discussed and evaluated. Associated risks are documented, and risk mitigation plans are put into place. The agreed-upon process enhancements are implemented.

Control: The final phase is about ensuring lasting improvement by putting Standard Work in place and implementing the measurement plan.

How was the approach invented?

The roots of DMAIC come from the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle, a method for learning and improvement also referred to as the “Shewhart Cycle,” developed by Walter Shewhart, the statistician who developed statistical process control at Bell Laboratories during the 1930s. W. Edwards Deming successfully applied the concept of PDSA during the 1950s, and PDSA became known as the “Deming Wheel.” After Deming, GE and others evolved PDSA into DMAIC to guide quality projects to reduce defects.

Who uses DMAIC?

As we mentioned, DMAIC is widely used by most organizations that practice the Six Sigma methodology. However, it is a valuable tool that can be used by any organization seeking to continuously improve processes and get better, more predictable results. It is popular in manufacturing, of course, but is also used in healthcare, higher education, construction, consulting, software development, logistics, retail, and other sectors.

What are some common mistakes with the approach?

The most common mistake is falling for the temptation to jump right to the Improve stage without taking the time to define the problem, get baseline measurements, and dig into the root cause(s). Organizations that see terrific results from the technique are very disciplined at sticking with the cadence and following each step.

Another common error is the failure to implement the controls necessary to sustain improvement. Early wins are great, but the impact of improvement should stand the test of time until a new improvement cycle is started to get even closer to perfection.

When should DMAIC be used?

Some improvements can be made without a full DMAIC cycle if the root cause apparent and the right change is evident. For other, more complex problems with multiple solutions or unclear reasons, a full cycle is needed. DMAIC is also very useful when numerous functional areas are involved in a process or if subject matter expertise is required. Often, DMAIC is deployed when previous improvement efforts have failed to produce the expected results or when special cause process variation is suspected.

How can I get the most out of the technique?

The best practices are to follow the approach step-by-step and to involve the people who run the processes in the improvement effort. Collaboration is key to finding the underlying issues and getting buy-in for the agreed upon changes. Documentation is essential. Improvement technology is beneficial for creating a central location for documents and ensuring that the project moves forward smoothly. It is also a good idea to review your database to access past DMAIC cycles that have been applied to similar processes. You may find some valuable lessons that have already been learned. Finally, remember that DMAIC is a process improvement technique, not a tool for employee evaluation.

DMAIC is popular because it is effective. Our clients have used it to reduce waste, improve customer satisfaction, eliminate defects, and reduce process times. It’s a great way to bring structure to your next continuous improvement project.

Topics: Six Sigma, Improvement Process, DMAIC

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