If you aren’t intimately familiar with the process improvement model Six Sigma, DMAIC may seem like a random chain of characters. It’s actually an abbreviation for the core improvement process used in Six Sigma projects. It stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Although the term originated within the Six Sigma paradigm, it can be used to improve company performance with or without the Six Sigma structure.
Logically, the first step of the DMAIC improvement cycle is Define. At this stage, the business problem is described in as much detail as possible. The boundaries and scope are outlined and agreed upon, and frequently a project charter is created. It is also the step in which potential resources and a tentative project time line emerge. One of the most important aspects of the Define step is to come to an agreement regarding what success looks like and how you will know if the project has been successful. The following questions should be addressed:
- What is the significance or business impact of the problem?
- Who is the customer? (Customers can be internal or external.)
- What processes, business units or people are impacted?
Because the DMAIC process is all about improvement, it is necessary to begin by assessing the current state as the baseline. This requires identifying objective performance metrics that can be used to compare the final state to the pre-improvement state. The importance of this step cannot be underestimated as it will determine the quality of the data, which is crucial to the unbiased assessment of the project’s success. The team should determine:
- What are the key performance indicators for the process or situation to be improved?
- How will we reliably measure the current state and the change over time?
- Who will be responsible for measurement and reporting? How often will data be collected?
Now that the data has been collected, the team can begin to analyze the causes of the problem. There may be more than one root cause. Data and analysis should lead the team to agree on the top potential causes and each should be considered further until the suspicion can be validated. There are complex analysis tools that can be utilized, but more basic tools can be effective as well. Process maps can be extremely helpful in uncovering issues that contribute to process failure or degradation. At this point, you’ll want to ask:
- What are the potential causes of the problem?
- What priority should be given to each cause?
- How can the data be visualized to bring clarity to the root causes?
Of course the goal of DMAIC is improvement, but only after the previous steps are accomplished is it time to identify, implement, and test a solution. In some cases, the solutions will be obvious and apparent, others may take some brainstorming and creativity on the part of the team. It may be helpful to gather input from affected steak holders outside of the project team. You’ll want to know:
- What is the plan for improvement and how will it be implemented?
- What are the risks of the plan and how can they be mitigated?
- What are the results against pre-defined performance measurements over time?
Control is a critical, but often overlooked part of the DMAIC process. The purpose of the control step is to make sure that the improvements can be continued over time. This step also involves determining if the improvement can be applied to other processes or replaced within the organization to leverage what has been learned. In order to have a successful control phase, ask:
- How will we document the improvement?
- How will the process be monitored over time to protect against breakdown?
- What have we learned that can be shared and applied in other areas?
- Who do we thank for our success?
The DMAIC process can be as complex or as simple as you like, but the concept has merit for those looking for a structure to improve company performance. Applying this type of discipline to each project will help improve the prospects for success.
Start a conversation: Do you use the DMAIC process? What benefit has it brought to your organization? And if you don't, what method do you use instead?