The DMAIC model remains the core roadmap for almost all Lean Six Sigma problem-solving approaches that drive quality improvement projects. It is used to ensure a robust problem-solving process is followed to give the best chance of the best solution being found.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Albert Einstein
DMAIC is short for: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. These are the key phases that each project must go through to find the right solution.
As you can quickly see from the 5 DMAIC phases they follow a logical sequence as we will go through in more detail below. But they also make sure you do not try to jump to implementing a solution before you have properly, defined and measured what you are going to be an improvement.
We all love to jump to solutions, but the DMAIC problem-solving structure helps us have a more rigorous approach so that we do not short cut the process and perhaps miss the best solution or perhaps implement the wrong solution as well.
The phases throughout the DMAIC model have and can be broken down in many different ways. One of the best approaches we have found is from Opex Resources.
The purpose of the Define phase is ultimately to describe the problems that need to be solved and for the key business decision-makers to be aligned on the goal of the project.
All too often, teams have identified solutions without actually defining what it is they will actually be trying to do or perhaps not do. This can lead to internal confusion and often solutions which completely miss the business requirements and needs.
An outcome of the Define stage is a clear Project Charter that gains project approval.
The Define Phase can be broken down into 5 key areas:
- Define the Business Case
- Understand the Consumer
- Define The Process
- Manage the Project
- Gain Project Approval
In the measure phase, the goal is to collect the relevant information to baseline the current performance of the product or the process. In this stage, we want to identify the level of “defects” or the errors that go wrong and use the baseline to measure our progress throughout the project.
The key goal of this phase is to have a very strong and clear measure/baseline of how things are performing today so that we can always monitor our progress towards our goals.
Many projects are delivered without clear benefits being shown because the team never fully baseline the current status before making changes.
The Measure phase can be broken down into 5 key areas:
- Develop Process Measures
- Collect Process Data
- Check the Data Quality
- Understand Process Behaviour
- Baseline Process Capability and Potential
The goal of the Analyse phase is to identify which process inputs or parameters have the most critical effect on the outputs. In other words, we want to identify the root cause(s) so that we know what critical elements we need to fix.
During this phase, the teams need to explore all potential root causes using both analytical approaches, statistical approaches or even graphical tools such as VSM’s and Process maps to uncover the most important elements which need to be changed/fixed.
The Analyse phase can be broken down into:
- Analyse the Process
- Develop Theories and Ideas
- Analyse the Data
- and finally, Verify Root Causes
The goal of the improve phase is to identify a wide range of potential solutions before identifying the critical solutions which will give us the maximum return for our investment and directly fix the root cause we identified.
During this phase, the team brainstorm, pilot, test and validate potential improvement ideas before finally implementing the right solutions. With each pilot, the team can validate how well it improves the key measures they identified back in Define and Measure. When the team finally roll out the solution, the results should be seen if the right solution has been found and implemented correctly.
The Improve phase can be broken down into:
- Generate Potential Solutions
- Select the Best Solution
- Assess the Risks
- Pilot and Implement
The final part of the DMAIC Model is the Control phase where we need to ensure that the new changes become business as normal and we do not revert to the same way of working as before.
During this phase, we want to ensure that we close the project off by validating the project savings and ensure the new process is correctly documented. We also need to make sure that new measures and process KPI’s are in place and finally that we get the business champion to sign off on both the project and the savings.
The Control phase can be broken down into:
- Implement Ongoing Measurements
- Standardise Solutions
- Quantify the Improvement
- Close The Project
The key closing documents of the Control Phase is a Control Plan that documents all the changes and process steps with key risks, standard work instructions and the Project Close-Out document signed by the business owners to accept the change and the validated benefits.
The DMAIC model is not the only project management roadmap. Two others which are important is the A3 format which originally comes from Toyota and is very Lean focused and the 8D which draws more of the DMAIC structure but with the 1-page idea of the A3.
Everyone has there own preference but each method is interchangeable. The DMAIC Structure lends its self naturally to a multi-slide Powerpoint presentation. Whereas the A3 is a single-page document which is perfect for internal communication and adding into War Rooms and Control Towers.
What’s important is that every problem-solving approach follows the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) Scientific Problem Solving format. The reset is just a preference or using the right tool in the right circumstances.
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The DMAIC Model refers to a data-drive improvement cycle used to drive improvements across all our processes. It is used heavily in Lean Six Sigma as it offers a robust problem-Solving approach to drive long term changes.
The DMAIC approach to problem-solving provides a framework to ensure each critical stage of an improvement process happens to give the best chance to deliver a real-world solution that does what we want it to do. It helps avoids the traps of jumping to solutions and helps manage an entire complex project over multiple months in a single framework.
It can and should be used for all improvement projects.
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