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DMAIC: An Essential Guide to Problem-Solving

This article is about process improvement and an introduction to the DMAIC approach.  During our training programmes, we encourage participants to identify improvement opportunities in their own workspace.  For example, these can be in:

  • Quality: Identify risks that could lead to an error.
  • Efficiency: See processes that are taking too long.
  • Delivery: How could we improve our customer’s experience? In this case, customers can be either internal or external to the business.  In short, the customer is whoever uses the outputs of your process.

We all solve problems both at work and at home every day.  Can you think of a systematic problem – one that occurs regularly?  How do you go about solving this problem?

DMAIC document

DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control

DMAIC is a structured approach to problem-solving.  This approach was first developed in the U.S. in the 1980’s, and was pioneered by Motorola.  It built on previous work by Shewhart in the 1930’s, and by Deming in the 1950’s.

The DMAIC model defines the 5 stages of problem solving.

Define

First, we need to clearly define the problem.  It might sound simple, but accurately describing the problem can be a large part of the solution.

There are many tools that we can use in the Define stage of DMAIC.  For instance, we can use Balanced Score Card, SIPOC Diagram, Pareto Chart, Project Priority Matrix, Kano Model & CT Tree to name a few.  At ETAC, we use the Project Charter or more specifically, the Problem Statement.

A problem well stated is a problem half solved” Charles Kettering, General Motors

A clearly outlined problem statement gives the team a much better chance of success.  Most importantly, we don’t advise skipping past this step.  We don’t assume that everyone understands the goal to be achieved.

DMAIC is a discipline that promotes the team’s understanding of the process before they try to solve it.  Above all, good direction from the start will eliminate many non-value-added arguments later.

The problem statement should not imply a cause or suggest potential solutions.  Here are several questions that you can consider.

  1. Who is being impacted by this problem?
  2. What exactly is wrong?
  3. Where can you find the problem?
  4. When did the problem start?
  5. What is the size or impact of the problem?
  6. How do we know?
DMAIC people discussing problem solving

Measure

Secondly, we need to measure or prove the problem with data or a clear description of the current issue.  Certainly, maps, photos and videos can be very useful at this stage

To state the impact of an issue, we need to consider what outputs or results are most important.  How would we measure the impact of an issue?  What metrics would be useful?  In our LeanTeams online training programme, we use Profit & Loss, Customer Lead Time Experience (how long the customers must wait for order confirmation), Errors in the Process, and the numbers of orders in the process and where they are located.  One of the goals of process improvement is to improve the flow between request and delivery.

When customer demand is not being met, Takt time is a useful concept to understand.  Simply put, this compares the time that we have available in the process against the demand on the process.

Analyse

Next, we need to analyse the problem.  The idea is to create a team of stakeholders – people who have a vested interest in the process.  This team could include suppliers, customers and people actively engaged in the process.  This team reviews the problem and the evidence with the goal of identifying and prioritising potential causes.  At this stage, the focus should be on the causes – not on trying to solve the issues yet.

DMAIC kaizen event

Improve

At this stage, we address the causes that we have prioritised.  This may involve setting up a pilot or an experiment to implement improvements and evaluate the outcomes.  We use creative solutions like Kaizen Events or Brainstorming to identify possible countermeasures.  While working with our clients, we try to involve everyone in our brainstorming sessions.  In fact, some of the best ideas have come from people we least expected.

Control

Finally, we control and embed the process improvements.  If the improvement is successful, we ensure that it is shared so that it becomes the new standardised process.  Then, we introduce Standard Work.  This is a very powerful but under-utilised Lean tool.  By documenting the current work practices, this sets the base standard for what can be improved within the company.  As the organisation makes improvements, the new standard of work becomes the base for future changes.

Conclusion

So that’s the DMAIC process.  Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve & Control.  So, what’s different about this approach?  The key difference is that most of us when we decide we have a problem will go straight to a solution.  And we do that with the best of intentions.

This process demands that we understand all the issues BEFORE we attempt a solution.

In our first 3 steps, we engage our team, collect the evidence, and prioritise the potential causes of the issue.  BEFORE we set about solving that issue.

You may also be interested in reading about our insights on our LeanTeams Virtual Training Solutions and the Best Start to Problem Solving.  All our blogs are available to read here.  Please connect with us on Linkedin and Twitter.

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