Believe it or not, the principles of Six Sigma can be applied to everyday life. In fact, you’re probably following some of them without even realizing it. During this journey, we’ll examine the DMAIC (pronounced as də-MAY-ick) strategy, a core aspect of Six Sigma. DMAIC is used to help solve problems and improve processes. We all strive for success, both in our professional careers as in our daily life, but along the way of trying to reach this success we come across a multitude of problems. Thankfully, DMAIC is here to help!
I already hear you saying, “again another blog trying to tell you what to do and what not to do in your career or life…”. Rest assured, dear readers. DMAIC does not tell you what you may or may not do, no, it guides you in a structural way to the solution of a problem. A solution of which you or your team are the creator of after defining, measuring, and analyzing a problem or situation. Let’s bring a little structure here, DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control and is a structured approach that has proven its effectiveness across various industries. Let’s explore how this problem-solving methodology can lead us to solutions that not only address current challenges but also pave the way for continuous improvement, operational excellence, and other process initiatives.
The first step in DMAIC is to clearly define the problem at hand. This involves identifying the scope, goals, and constraints of the project. By establishing a comprehensive understanding of the issue, teams can ensure that efforts are focused and aligned with organizational objectives. Defining the problem provides a roadmap for the entire problem-solving process, setting the stage for success. It seems very straightforward and obvious but don’t underestimate this step. You must try and get yourself, your colleagues, and the stakeholders all on the same page and reach an agreement on what exactly is the problem or challenge. Easier said than done…. A simple example of the degree of complexity this may entail:
An overhanging tree in your garden might be a problem for you because of the mess it leaves in your garden, but for your other neighbor it might create a cozy, shady spot during the hot summer days….
Once the problem is defined, the next step is to gather relevant data and metrics. You must start somewhere… Measurement is crucial for assessing the current state and establishing a baseline for improvement. This phase involves identifying key performance indicators (KPIs), collecting data, and analyzing trends. A picture says more than 1000 words, please represent your data or problem in a visual or graphic way. It is all about getting everyone on the same page, remember… By quantifying the problem, you or your team can gain valuable insights into its magnitude and impact on the overall process. A short example.
Picture your commute getting longer and longer month after month. The path to solving your problem starts by evaluating the route itself for example or how much longer does the trip take now versus previous years/months, etc….
With data in hand, it is time to dig deeper into the root causes of the problem. The Analyze phase involves using statistical tools (Pareto principle, control charts), root cause analysis (5why’s, Ishikawa diagram, process analysis, …), and other methods to uncover the underlying issues contributing to the problem. This critical examination allows teams to identify the most impactful factors and selecting those that are likely the root cause(s). A thorough analysis is the key to devising effective solutions that address the root causes, rather than just the symptoms leading to error prevention and continuous improvement. Statistical analysis is not necessarily needed, if you can provide overwhelming evidence that you have found the cause, feel free to omit those statistics. Note that statistics require analysis of data and a thorough knowledge of the different tests to apply them correctly. Fascinating if you ask me, but this cannot be applied by just anyone. If you do seek help concerning your statistical questions feel free to present them to me, I am always in for a little statistical challenge.
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable” – Mark Twain
Let’s go back to the previous example of the commute to work. while analyzing your measurement results, zoom in on what factors, if any, lead to the extra delays? Try to focus on causes rather than presenting solutions. Is it because of an outdated GPS system, overdue maintenance intervals of your car resulting in breakdowns, is it because of roadworks? in other words, you test different hypothesis against your collected/available data.
If you suspect any form of human error in the analyze phase, I would like to refer you to my colleague Lars’ blog. He delves into the multifaceted nature of human errors in the pharmaceutical industry, shedding light on their underlying causes and exploring strategies to mitigate their occurrence.
Unleash your creativity! Armed with a clear understanding of the problem and its root causes, you can now develop and implement solutions. The Improve phase focuses on generating ideas, testing hypotheses, and implementing changes to the existing process. This may involve process redesign, technology upgrades, or other innovations aimed at achieving the desired improvements. It is important to measure the impact (cost, legal, people, …) of these changes and refine the approach based on feedback from your team and your stakeholders. It is with these people you set the Define phase and agreed upon the problem in the first place!
In our example, please get up earlier, work from home or just take the bike! Just kidding … There are always solutions that be custom made for a specific problem or challenge, don’t be afraid to think out of the box and to involve people!
The final, and mostly neglected, phase of DMAIC is Control, which is all about sustaining the improvements achieved. This involves establishing monitoring systems, creating standard operating procedures, and implementing controls to ensure that the problem doesn’t resurface. Consistency is key here and a critical driver for success. By integrating these measures into the regular workflow, organizations can institutionalize the improvements and prevent regression leading to a continuous improvement culture! Key to such a culture, are the people. Don’t forget to keep your colleagues, team members and stakeholders up to date on project progress and thank them in time for motivation and participation in your project!
This methodology, with its structured and data-driven approach, empowers you and your team to not only address immediate challenges but also foster a culture of continuous improvement. By following the DMAIC framework, organizations can navigate complexities, overcome challenges, and strive towards excellence!
If you are committed to continuous improvement and operational excellence, let’s collaborate! Contact us today to explore how our expertise in operational excellence can benefit your business.