There’s a problem. It is clear to everyone that a process is not performing as it should or could. But where do you begin to make a process improvement? How can you be sure if you are really going to make an improvement? The answers to both of those questions, and others, are found in the DMAIC process improvement tool.
DMAIC is an acronym and it is pronounced, “duh-MAY-ick”. The letters stand for the 5 phases in an improvement project: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.
Understanding these 5 phases will guide you through to a successful end to your improvement project.
The benefits you will realize by effectively using the DMAIC methodology will vary greatly, but in a nut shell, your processes will improve. Depending on what improvements you tackle, you might see less scrap, shorter cycle times, less service rework, increased capability, decreased cost, increased customer and employee satisfaction, etc.
The team charged with being the champions for the change will greatly benefit from DMAIC as it can be a sort of agenda for the project and provide the plan needed for bringing about the change. Keep in mind, this is not a tool for creating a new process, but rather is a method for improving an existing process.
Please note that this topic fills entire books, and the purpose of this article is to raise your awareness of the DMAIC tool, teach you the very basics, and give you enough information so you can decide if it seems to be something that can benefit your business. Should you choose to move forward with DMAIC, then it is suggested that you look for more detailed instructions. With that, we are ready to touch on the meaning of each of the 5 phases.
This first step refers to defining the improvement project itself and answers these questions:
Who is leading the team, and who are the team members?
What, exactly, is the problem to be solved, and what is its scope?
Who will benefit the most from the improvement: owners, customers, employees?
Will those that stand to benefit be involved in the project, and how?
What is the expected, measurable benefit or goal?
What does the process currently look like, in detail? (SIPOC, process plan, flow chart)
What are the project timeline, schedule, milestones and budget?
The project leader may meet with management to determine all or some of these prior to bringing other team members into the project. Or, it may make more sense to have a team of individuals help with the determination of the project information. However it is decided, these questions must be answered in great detail before moving into the Measure phase.
The purpose of the Measure phase is to determine the current state of the process to be improved. Reliable, accurate data must be collected to provide a baseline for the specific metric or goal that was decided in the Define phase.
If the goal is to increase capacity or reduce lead time, take the flow chart or process plan and begin adding pertinent information such as set up times, process times, travel times (e.g. walking from one area to another and back), and any other information about the process that will state how it is performing at the beginning of the project. You need to know the current lead time per item, batch, transaction, service order etc.
If the goal is monetary, then add cost and employee time information to the process steps on the flow chart. With this type of goal, you should calculate the cost per service, lot, product, etc.
Make sure you use real data and that it gives you a baseline for whatever goal you have set. The more data you can gather the better, try to get data from several weeks, batches, contracts, production runs, shifts, etc.
Another key part of Measure is to identify the inputs, outputs and any process variables that relate to the project. This is important because you will need this information in the next phase.
The Measure phase also includes many other steps regarding setting up data collection methods, creating a data analysis plan, and performing process capability evaluation. At the very least, the Measure phase cannot be considered complete until:
The baseline for the metric you are attempting to improve has been calculated
The process outputs, inputs, and variables have been identified
During the analyze phase, project team members will carefully review the flow chart created and data gathered in the Measure phase. The activities on the process map or flow chart of the process are each evaluated for whether they add value or not. Brainstorming can take place for non-value add activities to determine how they can be reduced or eliminated. Bottlenecks, or parts of the process where items are held up, should be identified and solutions explored as well as the overall flow of the process should be evaluated.
Any data gathered needs to be analyzed. This is where it will pay off if you have gathered a lot of data to compare so weaknesses or trends can be identified. Look at the data from as many angles as you can, compare differences within groupings.
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Use the time in this phase to generate theories about the root cause(s) of the problem. Ask “Why?” as many times as it takes to get the weakness in the process that caused the issue in the first place. Don’t settle for the first, easy answer. Keep digging. Once the team is confident that they have identified the root cause(s), then the project is ready for the Improve phase.
The Improve phase begins as possible solutions for each root cause are generated. Team members should strive for creative answers and be open minded to others’ ideas. The goal is to consider a wide range of many solutions and then narrow down the list. Consider combining ideas or altering them to fit better. Add details to the solutions that seem to be the best options.
Create a new process map to reflect what the process will look like after the changes have been implemented and all improvements completed. It is a good idea to include the estimated savings in time and money and increases in quality measures.
Decide if a solution should be tested by use of a pilot. If so, then select the production line or service technicians who will participate in the pilot. Train them on what will occur and document results including feedback from the employees involved. Measure the actual outputs that were expected to improve. Transfer that data and any lessons learned from the pilot into the development process of the full-scale implementation plan.
The implementation plan should include consideration of the following:
Risk assessment (make sure your fixes don’t create another problem)
Plans for addressing regulatory, customer, ISO, business requirements
Measurement Plan (how you will record evidence of process improvement)
Training plans for employees
Other pertinent planning
During the full-scale implementation, the team will make the planned changes to the entire scope of the project and document the results. Once the implementation is complete, it is time for the Control phase.
Transferring control of the improved process back to the process owner/managers is the key objective of the Control phase. And this must be done in a way that ensures that the process will remain in its improved state. Provide this information to those who are responsible to maintain the improved process.
Before and after data on the metrics that were improved
New operational procedures or work instructions or changes or to existing documentation
Training plans for employees
Feedback from pilot participants, if any
Updated process map
Measurement plans for gathering evidence that the process metrics remain in the desired range
Recommendations for actions outside the scope of this project, if any were discovered
The final activities of a DMAIC project are to finalize the project, validate the performance of the process and celebrate. Finalization includes documenting how your company might apply the lessons learned from the project. Why not gain the fullest benefit from all the work? Think through other parts of your company that could improve by applying what you learned.
Validation of the process improvement occurs sometime after the project is over, control has been returned to the process owner(s) and after a period of time, such as six months. To validate, carefully check all metrics that were improved and verify that the current state of the process is still producing the desired results. If the improved results are not sustained, then the team must problem solve.
Be sure to celebrate in some way. It is quite an achievement to complete a project of this magnitude.
LINK TO ISO 9001
DMAIC, or any other specific management tool, is not required for those companies that are certified or claim conformance to ISO 9001. But since showing evidence that you are improving your processes IS a requirement, then it is a good option for consideration.
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As a tool for providing structure to your significant process improvement, DMAIC is a resource to consider. Though this topic is too complex to adequately explain in this article, the information presented here is intended to highlight the basics of the method and supply the reader with enough information to decide whether it is worth investigating in more depth.
Each of the 5 phases help an improvement team understand the necessary planning and activities required for a successful project.
- Define- understand the project
- Measure- understand the process and metrics to improve
- Analyze- analyze data and identify root cause(s)
- Improve- create and implement improvement plan
- Control- return control to process owner(s) and finalize project
Process improvement can be a daunting task, but with a clear plan outlined by the DMAIC methodology, you can accomplish a project and bring about much improvement.