In the mid 1980s, Motorola developed a set of techniques and tools called Six Sigma. In the ‘90s, it was adopted and promoted by General Electric as a key business strategy. Today, it remains a common approach to continuous improvement in all business sectors.
DMAIC (pronounced "de-may-ick") is often used as a Six Sigma framework tool that outlines a method of identifying and challenging sources of waste, poor quality, and inefficient processes, looking for opportunities for improvement.
In the first stage of the DMAIC improvement cycle, the business problem is detailed, the scope and boundaries described, and potential resources and timelines outlined. This step is important because it is where success is defined - how will you know when the project has been successfully completed? What will that look like? You should also be able to answer questions like:
How will you know if your actions have actually resulted in an improvement? The second step of DMAIC allows for such future comparison by assessing the current state for use as a quantified baseline. To do this, it is necessary to identify objective performance metrics than can be compared over time. This step is vital since it permits an unbiased assessment of a project’s actual impact. The team should determine:
When trying to solve a problem, it is essential that the improvement team understands its true root cause(s). How else will they know which aspect of the process to target in their improvement work? Your team will want to ask:
Only after completing the first three steps, is it time to identify, implement, and test a solution. At times, the solution will quickly become clear, but sometimes brainstorming and creativity may be needed from a diverse team. At this point, you’ll want to determine:
The final step is to determine if the improvements can be maintained over time, and if the improvement can be applied to other processes throughout the organization. The key to this step is to know:
While most companies are self-aware enough to recognize that they have problematic or inefficient steps within processes, they often don’t have a clear method for addressing them.
DMAIC works to improve problem solving by bringing some structure to the task. Because this approach is data-driven, it’s easier to identify the appropriate targets and root causes, and to make sure that any implemented changes actually outperform the previous method.
DO collect a variety of data.
When doing improvement work, people often get focused solely on the monetary or time-based rewards. However, DMAIC and other improvement disciplines can lead to even more benefits, including increased safety and quality, and greater employee and customer satisfaction. As such, it’s important that you develop a scale to measure these aspects of the process before implementing any changes so that you can verify that your work is actually causing verifiable improvements.
DO work with a cross-functional improvement team.
When looking for opportunities for improvement, it can be very helpful to consult people from a variety of backgrounds - while the frontline employees are best able to identify problems in their work processes, an outside perspective can often lend itself to finding an out of the box solution. Read more about the value of cross functional collaboration here.
DON’T rely on the manual.
DMAIC doesn’t work if all your insights are based on what has been documented as the policy or standard, rather than on what is actually happening in the workplace. The result of the Define and Measure steps may well be changes to documented procedures, or the realization that some training deficit is contributing to deviations from the standard work.
DON’T blame the people.
The focus of DMAIC should be on identifying problems in the processes, rather than blaming or finding fault with the employees performing those processes. By keeping this in mind, you can create a culture in which employees are comfortable in identifying mistakes and opportunities for improvement, which in turn creates a culture in which improvement is constantly made and errors prevented. Leaders are there to support their employees so they can have better processes with which to work. Blame processes, not people.