Published January 10, 2018
Define. Measure. Analyze. Improve. Control. Or DMAIC, for short.
Feeling intimidated? Ready to stop reading because these words have no pertinence to you?
Let us convince you that this five-letter acronym is much less complicated than you may presume, and why you might reconsider your stance about its relevance.
DMAIC: A definition
DMAIC is the backbone of the Six Sigma methodology – a set of steps to solve problems in any organization. It’s a data-driven methodology used to make decisions, steered by customer’s needs and expectations.
“We use data to determine the root cause of the problem, instead of just addressing symptoms,” says Peter Baumgartner, TCIE’s Operational Excellence Director.
Embrace DMAIC to improve the quality of a product. Use it to examine why a process is taking longer than it should. Tap the approach to dissect the cost drivers of a service.
DMAIC’s applications are endless.
DMAIC: An example
Let’s say your products are not shipping on time. Here is how the DMAIC approach would unfold.
The first step is creating a problem statement by defining the problem’s magnitude with a number or value – the length of shipping delays and frequency, for instance – as well as locating where the problem is happening. Then, devise a goal statement to answer the questions, “How much better do we want to be?” and “By when will we accomplish our goal?”
“I think it’s the most important part of the project,” Baumgartner says. “It really does become the compass. During the course of a project, it’s easy to get distracted or find other opportunities. This reminds you what you were working on initially.”
Data is more than gathering numbers. It entails “walking” the process to observe the work involved, and conducting interviews for a thorough understanding of current operations. For our project example, it could mean creating a high-level process map of all shipping steps and examining specific areas that demand attention, per a data analysis.
Baumgartner warns that validating existing data is integral. Automatically generated data from a computer system does not ensure accuracy. “Is it useable? Can it be trusted? You’re making data-driven decisions. So if the data is bad, it’s highly likely your decisions will be bad.”
This is the moment for continuous improvement tools to shine. While Six Sigma is often synonymous with statistics, Baumgartner recommends beginning with the simplest tool to understand the true cause of a problem before jumping to more complex, math-based techniques.
The “5 Why” analysis is the typical start. It’s as simple as channeling a toddler’s curiosity by asking “why,” and “why” again, until you have peeled back the layers and run out of answers. Why is the company experiencing a five percent drop in on-time deliveries over the last two months? Because inventory lagged demand. Why did inventory lag demand? And so on.
Once a root cause is identified, it is time to brainstorm solutions that might eradicate it. Testing multiple options will avoid implementing the wrong fix.
Suppose that by using the 5 Why analysis, we discover there is no standard process for reviewing and updating the material requirements planning (MRP) system. Conducting periodic reviews – and determining their frequency – could be one solution. Another might be considering ramifications of any operational changes on MRP behavior.
A problem may resurface if the altered process is not monitored. By creating a control plan, you dictate who will check performance levels and how regularly. Regardless of the improvement, you should consistently measure the original problem. We could chart delivery performance over time to determine if it’s stabilizing or improving.
“Another element is determining what you should do if you’re not getting the result you want or expect,” Baumgartner says. “It’s kind of an emergency preparedness plan. If you don’t have it written down, you won’t know what to do when it happens.”
Baumgartner concedes that tackling a project can have a paralyzing effect because “a lot of people are worried about picking the ‘best project.’ It doesn’t matter. Pick what’s important to your customer – which aligns with your strategic direction – and start working on it.”
TCIE offers certified training in Six Sigma. For those not ready – or motivated – to take the leap, our skilled and certified facilitators can solve your problem with our Six Sigma toolbox and expertise.