DMAIC is a Lean Six Sigma method used to run improvement projects. Nowadays, many project leaders (called Green Belts and Black Belts) use it worldwide. DMAIC became a common project management methodology in virtually any industry. Companies of all sizes, types and sectors use the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC to turn problems into solutions that work.
Six Sigma DMAIC In A Nutshell
The abbreviation DMAIC stands for the five Lean Six Sigma DMAIC phases: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. With other words, the DMAIC framework describes a project life cycle.
First, we define what does the project aim to do. Then, we measure the current performance. Next, the team analyses what exactly is happening and why. After that, finding out what needs to be done to improve the process becomes straightforward. Along with implementation and validation of the solution, the team identifies ways to control and sustain the new way of working.
Why Is DMAIC Still Relevant?
When we think about improvements, it seems very natural to jump to a possible solution. However, the first solution coming to our mind must not be the most optimal one. Another challenge is to sustain the improvement after the project closure. And, this is exactly where DMAIC makes projects more effective.
Following the DMAIC methodology, we do not rush to develop solutions. Rather, we start with aligning all project members towards a common objective. Then, we investigate what exactly is actually going on. For this reason, the Improve phase is the fourth, and not the first, phase of the DMAIC project management framework. This way, project teams deliver stronger results in the end!
Additionally, the project does not end with implementation of the identified solution. Hoping that the solution will be sustained over time is not enough in Lean Six Sigma. The project teams design solutions in a way that the improvements are accepted and used by all users also long after the project closure. This is what the last phase, the Control phase, is about.
The Five DMAIC Phases
Now, let me give you a brief overview of each of the five phases.
Lean Six Sigma project teams start with the Define phase, and continue through the Measure, Analyse and Improve to the Control phase. After each phase, we review the project progress. As a result of the review, a decision about the project is made. In most of the situations, projects proceed to the next phase. Nevertheless, if there is a reason, teams return to a previous phase or projects are postponed, closed or cancelled.
The Define Phase
In the Define phase we specify what the project team is going to accomplish. Additionally, team members together with their project sponsor discuss what is the project objective. At this point of time, various perspectives are openly shared and aligned. Lean Six Sigma practitioners summarises the project definition in a Project Charter. Among other things, the project charter includes project scope, problem statement, project objective, business case, and key milestones. Also, the Charter describes who are the project team players and how they plan to work with each other. Furthermore, the team is looking at the problem also from a customer perspective.
Figure 1.1. Example of a SIPOC tool from aviation industry. The word SIPOC stands from the first letters of its elements: Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers. It is used to scope projects, and helps to validate if all key players are involved in the project.
Some of the tools and methods used in the Define phase, in addition to the already described Project Charter, are: SIPOC, Voice of Customer (VOC), Critical-to-Quality (CTQ)-Tree, Project Plan, Milestone Plan, Risk Assessment, and alike.
“Define your business goals clearly so that others can see them as you do.”
— George F. Burns
The Measure Phase
The Measure phase is focused on the current state. To put it differently, the Measure phase analyses the existing process and its performance.
First, Lean Six Sigma practitioners seek to understand the current process in greater details. They are not concerned with how the process should work or is on a paper, but rather how the work is actually being done in the reality. Namely, they go to the actual workplace, which especially Lean practitioners call “Gemba”.
Second, data are being collected and analysed. At this point of time, the project teams validate the project problem with facts. There is a huge science behind getting the right data and measuring the correct things in the right way. All that, Green Belts and especially Black Belts learn as part of their Lean Six Sigma education.
Figure 1.2. Example of a process capability analysis created in the commonly used statistical software among Six Sigma practitioners, called Minitab. Process capability evaluates the overall performance. Before the project start, and after the solution has been implemented.
As an illustration, the following tools and methods are used in the DMAIC Measure phase: Operational Definition, Data Collection Plan, Check Sheets, Rolled Throughput Yield, Measurement System Analysis (MSA), Central Limit Theorem, various data distributions, data transformation, Statistical Process Control (SPC) with various Control Charts and Process Capability. Additionally, processes are being mapped by Process Flowcharts, Value Stream Maps (VSM), Spaghetti Diagrams, and other process mapping techniques.
“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”
— William Thompson (Lord Kelvin)
The Analyse Phase
Now, it is time to find out why the problem is actually happening. With other words, we are investigating what exactly is going wrong and why. Understanding causes and root causes of a problem helps to figure out (later on in the Improve phase) what needs to be done to fix it.
With this in mind, Lean Six Sigma Belts analyse the process and associated data to find out what are the major causes, so called root causes, to their problem on hand. Indeed, more data are collected and analysed.
Figure 1.3. Example of a Fishbone Diagram, also called Ishikawa Diagram. It allows project teams to identify potential cases to a specific problem (displayed in the box on the right side).
Tools and methods used in the Analyse phase include: process analysis, Fishbone Diagram, Pareto principle, Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), Interrelationship Diagram, correlation and regression analysis, hypothesis testing, Design of Experiment (DOE), Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), Kruskal Wallis test and many other hypothesis tests.
“Set priorities for your goals. A major part of successful living lies in the ability to put first things first. Indeed, the reason most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first.”
— Robert J. McKain
The Improve Phase
After confirming the root causes to the problem on hand, comes the Improve phase. At this point of time, teams consider various solutions. The most optimal solution to the problem is then detailed, and finally implemented.
Figure 1.4. Example of a Response Surface Design. This optimisation method is used to identify the most optimal statistical solution(s) to a problem. In other words, it seeks the most optimal settings influencing a key response variable.
The Improve phase applies various creative thinking methods, Design of Experiment (DOE), to-be process maps, Job Breakdown Sheet, prototyping, and other tools and methods.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
The Control Phase
The final phase, called Control, aims to ensure that the implemented solution is in place long after the project closure. During this time project teams put a control mechanism in place to sustain the new way of working. Also, they roll out the solution in the entire project scope (if not already done).
Figure 1.5. Example of implemented Control Plan. Process performance is being monitored by operations, and steered towards the desired impact. In successful implementations, it becomes the new way of working long after the project closure.
The tools and methods used in the Control phase include Error Proofing, Standardised Work, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Control Plan, Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), and alike. Additionally, some methods, which the Belts learned earlier, are now used again. For example, Statistical Process Control (SPC) or Process Capability, taught in the Measure phase, are used in the Control phase to evaluate performance of the new process.
Post-Control As The "Sixth" DMAIC Phase
Some companies also add a post-Control phase to DMAIC. In the reality, it adds one more milestone (a review point) to the project life cycle. In the post-control review the Lean Six Sigma project managers prove that the solution has been used over time, and generated the expected impact.
The Post-Control phase should provide sufficient time to confirm sustainability of the solution. In many instances, the Post-Control review takes place in six months after the Control phase review.
“The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men around to his opinion twenty years later.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
Soft Skills Come On The Top
DMAIC is used by project teams. Therefore, project managers and their teams need to know how to work effectively together. So, Lean Six Sigma courses usually also teach how to form teams, how to run effective meetings, and how to create and maintain productive teamwork.
Additionally, project leaders also learn how to give and receive feedback, how to deal with conflicts, and how they make a change stick.
To name few of the “soft sigma” techniques and concepts, they include Team Dynamic, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), various Change Management models, Johari Window, and alike. Also, techniques, such as brainstorming, Affinity Diagram, N/3 multi-voting and alike, are very useful for teams to effectively work together.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Where To Learn DMAIC?
Yellow Belt learns what the DMAIC approach is about, and then participate on improvement projects as a team members. On the other hand, Green Belts and Black Belts are able to run improvement projects as project managers. The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt education teaches DMAIC in greater details introducing also the more advanced tools and methods.
When you want to deepen your knowledge further, continue after the Black Belt course with the Master Black Belt education. You will become stronger change agent, and learn more on strategy, change management, coaching and Design for Six Sigma (DFSS).
In contrary, for a quick awareness you can take a White Belt course.
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About the Author:
Iveta is passionate about business transformations and about enabling continual improvement cultures benefiting everyone. She is an experienced senior management consultant, change agent and certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Lean Sensei (Coach). Iveta has been leading global transformations, and teaching and coaching hundreds of Lean Six Sigma professionals, incl. many Master Black Belts, worldwide.