DMAIC is a structured, customer-focused, data-driven approach to problem-solving. The acronym stands for “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.” It is often associated with the Lean or Six Sigma business methodologies but can be valuable for any organization looking to support incremental improvement.
Each phase of the cycle has a different set of tasks and objectives. Here’s a closer look at each.
During the Define phase, high-impact opportunities for improvement are selected. This phase is also about creating a picture of success and understanding the impact of the business problem on all stakeholders.
The critical steps during Define are:
- Identify and validate the opportunity for improvement
- Delineate the scope of the project
- Develop customer requirements
- Document business opportunity
- Estimate project impact
- Identify all stakeholders
- Form the team that will implement this improvement
- Craft team charter
- Identify and map related processes
A successful Define phase is essential to success, so resist the temptation to rush through this step and start experimenting with change. Careful planning is what separates structured improvement from chaos.
During the Measure phase, existing processes are documented, and a baseline upon which to improve is established.
Critical activities at this point include:
- Develop the methods by which data will be collected to evaluate success
- Identify input, processes, and output indicators
- Gather and analyze current state data
- Complete failure modes and effects analysis
There are several visual management tools that can be helpful when working in the Measurement phase. Consider control charts to map process behavior and identify trends. Bar charts and run charts can also be beneficial.
The goal of the Analyze phase is to identify and test the root causes of business problems and ensure that improvement is focused on the underlying causes, not just the symptoms.
At this point, you will:
- Develop a problem statement
- Complete a root cause analysis
- Implement process control
- Conduct regression analysis
- Design measurable improvement experiments
- Develop a plan for improvement
Many organizations use value stream mapping and the 5 Whys problem-solving technique during the Analyze stage. Once the opportunities for improvement are captured and documented, the plan for action begins to come together.
Now that you are armed with data and analysis, you are ready to decide which steps should be taken and you’ll start to implement the changes that the study and measurement have prescribed.
The following activities are typical:
- Generate and discuss solution ideas
- Determine expected solution benefits
- Develop revised process maps and plans
- Define a pilot solution and plan
- Communicate solutions to all stakeholders
Improvement management software plays an integral part at this stage. Leaders make assignments and track activities as the project progresses. Email and in-app alerts help keep forward progress moving smoothly and ensure that no tasks are missed. Software makes cross-functional collaboration easy by giving everyone a standard platform on which to work. Executives and managers can follow the progress of all DMAIC projects using configurable dashboards and charts.
Once the changes are in place and it is determined that the improvement was a success, it’s time to ensure that the win will be lasting and that results will be measured over the long-run.
At this point your team will:
- Verify reduction in failures due to the targeted cause
- Determine if additional improvements are required to achieve the project goal
- Identify and document the new Standard work
- Integrate and share the lessons learned
If you have improvement technology in place, you can set up your measurement activities over time so that you will be sure that key performance indicators continue to show the expected results. The total impact of the change in terms of efficiency, cost reduction, quality improvement, or customer satisfaction can be quantified and shared.
The Control phase continues until the team identifies a new opportunity for improvement and the cycle begins again.
DMAIC takes discipline, but once your team gets comfortable with the approach, it will become second nature, enabling them to create more positive change quickly and efficiently.