DMAIC is an abbreviation for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. It refers to a data-driven improvement cycle used for streamlining, optimizing and stabilizing business processes. The DMAIC cycle is the core tool used to drive Six Sigma projects; however, it can be used as the framework for other improvement applications. In order to complete a successful project, all steps of DMAIC are required and must always proceed in the given order. Inside any organization are thousands of improvement opportunities. Following a structured approach like DMAIC will greatly increase your chances of selecting the right projects to work on (those that will make the biggest impact on the organization) as well as produce a higher rate of success for the projects you tackle.
What is DMAIC Process?
Step 1- Define
What is the problem? The purpose of this phase is to clearly communicate the business problem, the goal of the project, potential resources, project scope and project timeline. This information is captured within the Project Charter, a document which outlines the project objectives, provides an overview of roles and responsibilities, identifies the main stakeholders, and lists in-scope and out-of-scope items. Forming the project team requires a Team Leader (could be a Black Belt or Green Belt), a Project Sponsor or Champion, and a selection of subject matter experts. The belts refer to levels of certification one achieves by demonstrating Six Sigma philosophies and principles, including supporting systems and tools. Black Belts are higher than Green Belts. Team members can come from different areas, but should have some connection to the business problem. The Team Leader will initially meet with the team to determine meeting frequency, cadence, and project roles. Some of the tools used in the Define phase are SIPOC and Voice of the Customer (VOC). SIPOC is a table which summarizes the inputs and outputs of one or more processes in table form. The acronym stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers which form the columns of the table. Voice of the Customer requires team members to contact customers to better understand their requirements of the process. Customers are defined as the individuals or groups who receive the goods or services of the process, and can be internal or external. The main deliverable for the Define phase is the Project Charter, which is reviewed and updated with the leadership team. The charter will be updated throughout each phase going forward as more information about the business problem is uncovered. A Tollgate Review is performed at the end of this phase, as well as all the other phases, to determine whether the work has been completed as per the project plan and whether the objectives have been achieved.
Step 2- Measure
How does the current process perform? The purpose of this phase is to objectively establish current baselines as the basis of improvement, document the current process, and validate how it is measured. The performance metric baselines from this phase will be compared to the performance metric at the conclusion of the project to determine objectively whether significant improvement has been made. A detailed Process Map is used to assess the current performance of the process and break down the process by certain functions (also known as swim lanes). The map is a detailed flow chart of the process using symbols to define each of the steps and is based upon information from the SIPOC (from the Define phase). The objective of the map is to capture all the complexity and improvement opportunities by analyzing each step in detail. The team reviews the map to look for any inconsistencies or gaps which may be causing the business problem. They also look for any type of waste in the current process. Waste is defined as any step or action in a process that is not required to complete the process. The 7 types of waste that Six Sigma projects look to eliminate are: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over Production, Over Processing, and Defects. The team will also need to gather baseline data on the current process to see how it currently performs. This may include pulling data from databases, visually observing the process while it is performed or having employees track certain aspects of what they do. The team decides on what should be measured and how to measure it. Once the data has been collected, a variety of tools can be used to analyze and illustrate the current situation. Those tools are: Control Charts, statistical analysis, and Pareto Charts. At the end of the Measure phase, the team should have a detailed process map that clearly shows how the current process is performed along with data and charts that tell you how well the process meets customer requirements.
Step 3- Analyze
What is the cause of the problem? The purpose of this phase is to identify, validate and select root cause(s) for elimination. A large number of potential root causes of the project problem are identified via root cause analysis. The Analyze phase utilizes a number of tools for collecting team input to identify or confirm top root causes. Some of the common tools used are: Fishbone Diagram, 5-Why’s, and Cause & Effect Diagram. Additionally, the team should review the detailed process map and identify those steps that are Value-Added and Non-Value Added. Steps considered Non-Value Added should be examined as possible root causes. The top 2-3 potential root causes are selected using multi-voting or other consensus tool for further validation. Typically, no more than 3 root causes are determined, if the number exceeds that, then the team has not identified the primary causes and perhaps the problem is bigger than the project initially anticipated. A data collection plan is then created and data is collected to establish the contribution of each root cause to the project problem. This process is repeated until “valid” root causes can be identified. Once the root cause(s) or hypotheses have been established, the team must verify the causes with data utilizing statistical hypothesis testing. This can be done using a Scatter Plot or Regression Analysis. The team should have a least one confirmed hypothesis regarding the root causes of the problem the project aims to resolve. Once a root cause is known, action can be taken in the next phase to eliminate it.
Step 4- Improve
How will the problem be fixed? The purpose of this phase is to fully understand the top hypotheses identified in the Analyze phase, with the intent to either control or eliminate them from the process. This involves brainstorming potential solutions, selecting solutions to test, and evaluating the results of the implemented solutions. During brainstorming, it is very important to include the people who are involved in the process; the team should not try to tackle this task alone. There are a variety of techniques used to brainstorm potential solutions, however, at times, team members and process participants are able to produce a list of ideas on their own. An important aspect of brainstorming is that no idea or proposed solution should be dismissed or eliminated. Although an idea may sound unusual at first, it may lead to another idea that may succeed. All ideas or proposed solutions should be examined as potential answers to the project problem. Once a list of solutions is produced, the team can then update the detailed process map used earlier and create a “future state” map, displaying the proposed, new process. This will be beneficial for communicating the new process to leadership teams and training employees on the new process. When selecting the best solution(s), the team can test the solutions using “PDCA” for Plan Do Check Act or sometimes called the Deming Cycle. Based on the PDCA results, the team should attempt to anticipate any avoidable risks with the “improvements” using FMEA, which stands for Failure Mode and Effects Analysis. Once selected, the solution(s) require careful planning and the team must create a detailed implementation plan. The team will consider logistics, training, documentation and communication plans. In some cases, a pilot program is used prior to a rollout of all improvements. By the end of this phase, the team has validated that the solutions being implemented will eliminate the root cause(s) and result in an improved, streamlined process. The new process is applied and the team is ready to sustain the improvements and close out the project.
Step 5- Control
How is the new process maintained? The purpose of this final phase is to ensure the improvements obtained in the last phase are upheld long after the project has been completed and to verify whether the implemented changes have reduced or eliminated the problem. It’s necessary for the team to standardize and document new procedures, see that all employees are trained on the new process and communicate the project’s results to the leadership team. A critical part of the Control phase is for the team to create a plan for the monitoring of the new process and how to react to any problems that might arise. Metrics must be devised to track the performance of the process and who will maintain these metrics and how often to measure them. A Control Chart can be useful to assess the stability of the improvements over time by serving as a guide to continue monitoring the process and provide a response plan for each of the measures being monitored should the process becomes unstable. It is now time to close out the project, which involves transferring ownership of the new process from the team back to the process owner. There also may be additional recommendations from the team on any next steps for the new process. Perhaps other DMAIC projects are in order to cover issues that were not addressed with this project. Finally, the team should celebrate the successful completion of the DMAIC project. DMAIC projects can be time-consuming, tedious and quite complicated, and as the Team Leader, it’s important to share the achievement and the resulting benefits with the team members and thank them for all their efforts on the project. Communication of the successful project with the leadership team and other areas of the organization will emphasize the positivity of DMAIC projects and perhaps lead to other project opportunities in the future.