DMAIC (Deh-May-Ick) is one of the most important tools in the continuous improvement toolbox. It is most closely associated with the Six Sigma methodology, but it is also used by those who practice Lean or don’t subscribe to a methodology at all. The reason that DMAIC is so popular is that it is a problem-solving framework that takes teams from discovering root causes to long-term, stable standard work. It is a repeatable process that employees can learn to apply to any number of process problems.
DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Motorola is credited with bringing it to prominence, although it was essentially an evolution of the improvement methodology used by Toyota.
A deeper dive reveals why it works so well.
Interestingly enough, “Define” was not part of the original cycle deployed by Motorola in the 1980’s. It was later added when IBM adopted the Six Sigma methodology. IBM wanted to emphasize the need to scope and supply resources for every improvement project and that’s exactly what happens during the “Define” step when DMAIC is deployed today.
In this first step of the cycle, project objectives and deliverables are defined for both internal and external customers. Teams look for high-impact improvement projects and outline the definition of success. Great care is taken to understand the customers (internal or external) and their requirements. What adds value to the customer, and what are their expectations. The limits of the scope of the project
Tools typically include the project charter, process flowchart, and stakeholder analysis.
One thing that is true for any improvement technique is that you need a baseline upon which to improve. Without understanding the results of the process in place today, you can never know if you’ve achieved improvement. That’s where the “Measure” step comes in. During this phase, the current process is documented. Current forms of measurement are validated, and a baseline performance value is obtained. Ideally, the measurement data is centrally stored so that it is readily accessible to the team working on the project and any other stakeholders. Care should be taken that the measurements get at the heart of the issue, rather than being the easiest things to measure.
Tools typically include data collection plan, sigma calculation, and benchmarking.
The purpose of this step is to identify, verify and select root cause for elimination. If analysis reveals too many root causes, the “Define” step may not have been specific enough. Generally, 3-4 root causes are selected and a plan is crafted to collect data to prove the relative contribution of each root cause to project metrics. The process may need to be repeated multiple times until the culpable root causes are identified.
Tools typically include the 5 whys, fishbone diagrams, and regression analysis.
Once the root causes are clear, the team can focus on identifying the improvements that will lead to better process performance. Sometimes the right solution will be immediately apparent, but sometimes a great deal of brainstorming and innovation is required. At this stage, the team determines the plan for improvement, discusses risks and mitigation tactics, and prepares to measure results based on the predefined KPIs.
Typical tools include brainstorming, mistake proofing, and improvement management technology.
Once improvements are in place and proven to have positive results, the object becomes making sure that the new, more effective state is maintained over time. The changes that were made must be held constant to ensure the same results. This generally involves creating new standard work documentation, crafting a training plan, and setting up regular measurement and review processes. Unfortunately, this is a frequently neglected part of the improvement cycle, which is why many organizations see short-term gains from improvement projects but don’t enjoy lasting results. Improvement management software with notifications and alerts can help ensure that gains are maintained over time.
Typical tools include standard work, process control charts, and project management software.
The DMAIC cycle can be quick and easy for simple problems with clear root causes, or it can involve many improvement tools and cross-functional collaboration for more difficult challenges. In either case, it requires discipline and attention to detail, two very important elements of continuous improvement. Organizations that get very good at DMAIC put themselves in the position to respond quickly to problems and achieve benefits that last.