by Samir Merchant

Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control

Project managers in practically every industry are faced, from time to time, with the challenge of enhancing the efficiency and productivity of their business. To achieve this, it is imperative that they understand the best possible means to assess and analyze the present processes accurately. To get improved results, after all, the best approach would be to improve the process that gives them the desired results.

As indicated above, it is necessary for project managers to have a comprehensive understanding of process improvement when it comes to process improvement endeavors. A process can be broken down into three basic aspects: the inputs to the process, the process under assessment, and the outputs from the process. The notion of improvement is actually quite simple; to improve the outputs of a process, one simply has to enhance the inputs the process itself. To enhance the output, which we can call the ‘Y’ or the ‘Key Measure’, pick out, measure, and improve the inputs and process metrics, which can call the ‘X’s. Concentrating on the results, the output Y measures rather than the Xs is a post-effort, reactive, costly, and inefficient approach to improving results. The fact that Y is a function of X (Y=X1, X2,X3 ……… ) is the basis of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) road map.

DMAIC (an abbreviation for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) pertains to a data based improvement cycle for improving, strengthening, and securing business processes and designs. The DMAIC improvement cycle is the main tool used to implement Six Sigma projects (Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects - aiming toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit in any process – from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.) DMAIC, by no means thought is exclusive to Six Sigma, it can well be utilized as a tool for other improvement applications.

Over the course of time, DMAIC has acquired much popularity as an improvement method that is easy to apply, appropriate for teams, and powerful and practical for achieving performance enhancement. Its popularity has resulted in the adoption of lean six sigma in numerous companies. So exactly how does one use DMAIC? Let’s review below:

DMAIC - Define the improvement opportunity.

This probably sounds simplistic, but in reality, DEFINING an opportunity can be challenging. Some people explain the symptoms that they experience or the factors that aggravate a situation. Others are wishful, stating what they want. It takes some consideration to ensure that a team is discussing the main problem area and comes to a unanimous decision on what needs to be and can be achieved.

It all depends on the level of motivation and knowledge within a team, every one may want to share their agitation with a process at the same time, sometimes disagreeing with each other. There are tools linked to the Define step that enable the team members to get through biased opinions and focus on objective facts. They can try the "Is / is not" tool to limit the scope or the "As Is / To Be" mapping to be clearly manager everybody’s expectations. Moving on from opinions to facts becomes faster and helps to manager the limitations of the project as well as define the targets for the team.

It is advisable that process improvement teams take their time and not rush through the DEFINE step. It can be difficult containing myriad solution ideas and it can also be the case that no one can think of any solution at tall! In either case, the Define steps helps to ensure that the team is focused on the best possible improvement opportunity.

DMAIC - Measure your success.

Measuring the success of a product is frequently perceived as tedious and time consuming. It is much more stimulating to dive in and seek solutions. However, DMAIC is all about permanent solution to improvement opportunities. The DMAIC- measurement step ensures that the process management team is set on the right track. They should use Critical to Quality (CTQs) trees to establish the appropriate metrics for the project. It should be determined how success will be measured and this strategy should be made known to all stakeholders, in all that everybody in in agreement and on the same page. Lean six sigma explains various ways of identifying the key metrics and setting up adequate measurement systems. These tools enable a project management team to recognize the measurements that are critical to their success.

Sometimes, teams move forward rapidly and stakeholders tend end to overlook how neglected a situation has been. Taking measurements before and after the project implies that the project team calculates the effect of the changes that they will introduce. Successful change makes it easier to address other improvement opportunities and lends credibility to the application of DMAIC.

Despite the fact that Measure is a crucial part of DMAIC and is the second step addressed by the project management team, the manager should not delay the analysis process until the measure step is concluded. Teams can become lax while waiting for the perfect measurement system. It is imperative that they not lose the early motivation and ideas owing to focus on measurements. The measure step can overlap with other steps in the DMAIC improvement cycle.
DMAIC - Analyze & find the root causes

The project management team is now clear on what is needed to be done. They can concentrate their energy and share their process knowledge to find the root cause of the issues impacting the process. Lean six sigma tools like value stream maps can aid the team to identify areas for improvement. Techniques like 5 whys and cause and effect analysis enable the team t find the sources of the problem. Process potential reviews can help the teams to comprehend the capabilities of the process and make a decision on an improvement method.

The DMAIC –Analyze step is time consuming and may need some experimentation during the course. The best analysis entails cross-functional teams working together for a common objective. The team should involve people who work directly with the process. They have hands on experience that can prove to be invaluable to the project team.

DMAIC - Improve the process

Once the project management team has successfully concluded define, measure, and analyze steps, they have acquired plenty of knowledge about the process. Frequently we hear team members talk about how the process is easier to comprehend after spending time on define, measure, and analyze steps. This process knowledge makes is simpler to identify solutions. Tea s should also make use of other six sigma tools to aid them in finding solutions. Bench marking helps team spot the solutions that produce real performance improvements.
The DMAIC - improve step is about selecting the best solutions. Lean six sigma motivates teams to evaluate all potential solutions and concentrate on those that deliver the beigest improvements for the least risk. This method tends to ensure that the solutions identified are strong and will optimize the gain in process enhancement.

DMAIC - Control the process

The final step of DMAIC is control and it concentrates on ensuring that the benefits derived from the improved project are sustainable. Nobody would want to be back a year later trying to fix the same process issues for a second time. The improvements should be robust and permanent; it should be easier to abide by the new changes then having to revert to the old ways!
The DMAIC – control step amalgamates the mew improvements into the process by incorporating them in process documentation and when required, auditing the process to ensure adherence to the changes. The control step also makes use of lean six sigma tools like the process control chart to explain critical process metrics and how they are managed. Statistical process control charts or dashboards can be very useful in the monitoring and evaluation process and alert process owners when performance varies.

Conclusion

The DMAIC improvement cycle had proven to be extremely beneficial in terms of reducing costs, improving quality, and minimizing process errors. It can put an organization in control of their processes by helping their teams to understand the factors need to be improved. DMAIC is the improvement cycle for lean six sigma projects. If you are interested in learning about applying DMAIC process improvement, you can take the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training course and start applying DMAIC immediately. The Six Sigma Yellow Belt training course and lean six sigma software can help you get up to speed on DMAIC fast! It’s all on-line so you can begin this training immediately!