It’s not an exaggeration to say that DMAIC is a method for solving almost any kind of business problem. This may seem like hyperbole, until you sees exactly what’s involved in this exacting methodology.
The name itself is, as one could guess, an acronym: D is for Define; M is for Measure; A is for Analyze; I is for Improve: and C is for Control. Thus, each letter stands for a phase you take in trying to solve a problem. Each phase, incidentally, is broken down into different steps.
This way of solving problems is far from academic. It has been tested long enough in the real world to be shown to be highly effective in resolving a wide range of initially bewildering business problems. However, with that being said, the dmaic process is most suitable for following types of business problems:
- · One that is an obvious problem, rather than one where there is some disagreement that things need to be improved.
- · One that is worth solving, rather than focusing on fixing things that aren’t broken. A problem is considered worthy of time and attention if the solution will potentially increase revenues, slash costs, or improve efficiency.
- · One where data can be collected; a quantifiable problem rather than a philosophical or qualitative problem.
Although DMAIC appears linear and sequential in theory, it’s not exactly a step-by-step approach in practice. Since problem-solving is often a process of discovery and insights, iteration is usually necessary for the problem to be resolved.
Suppose, for example, you are trying to keep your cloud services secure. When you get to the Analysis phase, you might discover that you don’t have enough information on all the biggest threats that could affect security. You then iterate back to the earlier stage, Measure, where you identify and collect the data you forgot or that you didn’t realize you needed.
Let’s take a look at each DMAIC phase and the tools you could use for that stage:
D or Define Phase: This is the stage where you get clear on the nature of your project and your customers. What are your project goals? Who are your internal and external customers? What are your deliverables? At the Define Phase, your choices of tools include: Project Charter, Process Flowchart, SIPOC Diagram, Stakeholder Analysis, DMAIC Work Breakdown Structure, CTQ Definitions, and Voice of the Customer Gathering.
M or Measure Phase: Here is where you will quantify the problem. You need to measure current performance so that you can measure the process. At the Measure Phase, your choices of tools include: Process Flowchart, Data Collection Plan/Example, Benchmarking, Measurement System Analysis/Gage R&R, Voice of the Customer Gathering, and Process Sigma Calculation.
A or Analyze Phase: You now analyze and figure out the root cause or causes of the problem or defects. At the Analyze Phase, your choices of tools include: a Histogram, Pareto Chart, Time Series/Run Chart, Scatter Plot, Regression Analysis, Cause and Effect/Fishbone Diagram, 5 Whys, Process Map Review and Analysis, Statistical Analysis, Hypothesis Testing (Continuous and Discrete), and Non-Normal Data Analysis. It’s a lot of tools, but remember, you don’t have to use them all; you will probably only need a few tools to analyze the particular problem you’re working on resolving.
I or Improve Phase: You are now ready to see how you can improve the process by eliminating the issues that are causing the setbacks in the business issue. At the Improve Phase, your choices of tools include: Brainstorming, Mistake Proofing, Design of Experiments, Pugh Matrix, QFD/House of Quality, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), and Simulation Software.
C or Control Phase: Finally, you are now at the point where you work out how to control future processes. At the Control Phase, your choices of tools include: Process Sigma Calculation, Control Charts (Variable and Attribute), Cost Savings Calculations, and Control Plan.
After reviewing what goes on at each stage, you’re now in a position to appreciate the reason why the DMAIC methodology works as well as it does. Since it is so structured and rigorous, there are different degrees of Six Sigma expertise measured by belts, from white belt to black belt and then beyond to master black belt. Besides understanding all the steps to be taken at each phase, each tool has to be understood clearly enough to put to good use when needed.