If you are new to continuous improvement or just interested in trying out a new technique, this guide to DMAIC is for you. We’ll explain each of the steps and talk about why it is such a popular approach.
When most people think about continuous improvement, they are focused on making business processes more efficient with less waste. But don’t forget that improvement itself is a business process. In order to produce lasting positive change, there needs to be a structure and consistent approach to improvement efforts.
DMAIC is a simple, but powerful technique for setting a standard for improvement in a way that is repeatable and effective for many opportunities for improvement.
DMAIC consists of five steps: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. While it is generally associated with the Six Sigma business methodology, it can be used as a standalone improvement technique or alongside other approaches like Lean management and TQM.
The first step is to clearly identify the discrete business issue and set walls around the scope of the improvement effort. It is necessary to document as much detail about the issue and the current state of the process as possible. This step also involves deciding what success looks like. Many teams use formal project charters to document this data and share the plan.
- Identify and confirm the improvement opportunity
- Limit the scope of the project
- Capture the business process and critical customer requirements
- Document the business opportunity
- Estimate project impact
- Identify stakeholders
- Assemble the team
- Draft team charter
- Map related business processes
Improvement work should have a measurable impact. Quantifying the results requires that both the baseline and the post-improvement results be calculated. Doing so allows you to make a comparison between the past and future to validate your success. Organizations should decide which key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used to measure results. Someone should be made responsible for measurement, and the frequency of the calculations determined.
- Develop the data collection methodology for evaluating success
- Identify input, processes and output indicators
- Collect, chart, and analyze current state data
- Assign responsibility and plan regular measurement
Now that you have the data, a root-cause analysis can begin to uncover the fundamental reason for the business problem. Value stream mapping and the 5-whys can be very valuable at this stage. Remember that many problems have more than one root cause. The focus should be kept on causes, not symptoms (and never blame). This analysis will prepare the team to come up with a plan for improvement.
- Craft a problem statement
- Conduct a root cause verification analysis
- Implement process control
- Perform regression analysis
- Develop measurable improvement experiments
- Design plan for improvement
You’ll notice that the improve step comes only after thorough measurement and thoughtful analysis. Before making changes, it is necessary to communicate the improvement plan along with any identified risks and mitigation strategies. Think of each improvement effort as an experiment, paying close attention to the results and any unforeseen consequences.
- Brainstorm and evaluate solution ideas
- List expected solution benefits
- Create revised process maps and plans
- Craft a pilot solution and plan
- Communicate to all stakeholders
The final step in DMAIC is one that is often overlooked. The object of the control step is to ensure that improvement successes last and don’t degrade with time. At this point, it is also useful for the team to think about whether this improvement might be applied to additional problems or if information about the effort might be useful to other parts of the organization. At this point, the final Standard Work is approved and long-term measurement plans are in place.
- Validate reduction in failures due to the targeted root cause
- Consider whether additional improvement is necessary to achieve project goal
- Note and document replication and standardization opportunities
- Update the Standard Work
- Socialize lessons learned
If you are new to structured improvement it might be intimidating, but like any other complicated process, if you break it down into manageable parts, it becomes easier to imagine. By using a proven approach like DMAIC, you will accelerate your path to success and ensure that results are long-lasting. With DMAIC everyone knows what to expect when you embark on a new improvement project. It can be made even more effective with the use of software designed to support the improvement process. It’s no wonder that DMAIC is one of the most popular improvement methodologies used by organizations in almost every industry. We hope you feel ready to give it a try.