Exploring The Core of Six Sigma
Six Sigma is a methodology that is comprised of multiple strategies that help businesses develop innovative solutions to address bottlenecks and inefficiencies. DMAIC is one strategy within the overarching Six Sigma methodology. DMAIC is an acronym that outlines how a company can improve a specific process. It stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
The formal definition of Six Sigma is a statistical measure of quality, 2.4 defects per million or 99.99966% good quality. Although zero defects is the goal, as a measure Six Sigma will drive an organization toward achieving high levels of customer satisfaction while reducing operation costs.
Six Sigma is considered a well defined problem solving methodology which focuses on customer requirements through the use of fact based, data driven, and statistical tools. The philosophy of Six Sigma recognizes that there is a direct correlation between the number of product defects, wasted operating costs, and the level of customer satisfaction.
DMAIC is critical to improving speed, quality, and cost. Each step within the DMAIC strategy helps logically define problems, implement solutions, establish best practices, and ensure these solutions remain in place.
To improve, one must understand where inefficiencies lie.
Using the DMAIC strategy to improve a process begins with selecting a project to employ this strategy. Next, DMAIC moves on to reviewing implementation options for process improvements. Lastly, businesses will work through each step of the DMAIC strategy to ultimately improve a specific business process.
- Selecting DMAIC Projects
- Implementation Options
- Deeper Dive into the Five Phases of DMAIC
Selecting DMAIC Projects
The first step to improving a process is determining which processes are most worth improving. Determine what’s most important to the business or which value driver is overtly lacking. Cost, profit, revenue, customer segments, these areas along with gathering data from customer/marketing information, process data, employee experiences, and taking into consideration regulatory changes are all critical in determining project selection.
Project selection will begin by screening ideas based on a few critical bits of data or predetermined criteria. These ideas are then passed off to an individual who will perform a deeper dive into the data to provide more details about the potential ROI, costs, benefits, and scope of work in the form of a project charter draft. The report generated from this more thorough investigation is then compared to a more detailed set of criteria to identify the projects that would have the most worthwhile impact from a DMAIC project.
Understanding which aspects of business would be worth most to the business and its customers is critical. Determining which aspect of a business to improve with a DMAIC project requires a strategic decision to be made.
There are two ways to approach implying DMAIC. Project-team approach or Kaizen approach.
- Project-team approach – Black Belts will be deployed full-time to projects. Team members will work on the project part-time and individuals will work on the project alongside their regular work. Full involvement by all team members in all phases of DMAIC will take place. The estimate for the project duration can be 1 – 4 months depending on the scope of a project.
- Kaizen approach – This is a much more intense approach to the DMAIC process. It takes a rapid 1 week or less progress through all of DMAIC except the last step which is full-scale implementation. Preparation on the Define and Measure aspect will be done by a team leader and a Black Belt or another qualified subgroup. The rest of the work is handled by a complete group over several days or a week. This group will work only on this project and nothing else. All participants are pulled away from their regular jobs to focus only on the DMAIC project at hand.
Deeper Dive into the Five Phases of DMAIC
It is critical to have a team reach an agreement on the scope, goals, financials, and performance target for the project. Without documenting the critical components included in the Define phase, the rest of DMAIC will suffer and is prone to failure.
The first draft of the project charter must be made available to the team working on the Define section of DMAIC. Resource allocation must be defined. The size of the team and the initial budget is required to properly and efficiently progress through DMAIC.
Steps to Define…
- Reviewing the project charter: The team should have a complete understanding of the draft charter. Questions should be written down, submitted by leadership, and answers provided to the team. Any edits to the project charter in terms of scope, timing, the budget should be made immediately.
- Validate problem statement, solidify goals, and financial benefits: The problem presented to the team should; exist, be important to customers, be important to the business, possible to improve using the DMAIC method. The financial benefit should be made apparent through realistic projections and data.
- Validate process map and scope: document the main steps of the original process, see if data exists to provide a baseline to measure improvements.
- Create a communication plan: Clearly document project participants and stakeholders. A plan/process should be determined for keeping all those that need to be informed about the project’s progression, up to date.
- Develop a schedule, budget, and set milestones.
- Complete the Define gate review.
Below is a list of the deliverables that should be available by the end of the Define stage:
- Completed project charter
- Documentation showing how customers and which ones will be impacted by this project and clearly defining their needs
- High-level process map(s)
- Complete project plans. Gantt charts; stakeholder analysis; resistance analysis; risk analysis; action logs; responsibility assignments, and communication plans are all highly recommended.
- Outcomes from the project launch meeting and clearly defined project purpose, charter, deliverables, and team responsibilities.
This next step is to clearly understand the current state of the process and collect reliable data on process speed, quality, and costs. Having access to this data will allow a business to identify underlying issues while giving them a benchmark to measure any kind of improvements from the DMAIC project.
Steps to Measure…
- Create a value stream map to confirm the current process flow: Use a basic process map or deployment flowchart to start. Adding process data will generate a value stream map.
- Identify the outputs, inputs, and process variables that impact the specific project: Data collection is key. Choosing only relevant data for a specific project is critical for benchmarking.
- Create a data analysis plan: Before capturing a large amount of data, it’s ideal to have a plan in place and verify what tools can be used to analyze the data that will be collected. This data analytics plan can be modified as new data presents itself.
- Keep data and measurements standardized, accurate and consistent: Data must be accurate to have any value. Measurement tools need to be calibrated and Definitions of all metrics must be used by everyone or every tool collecting data.
- Collect data to establish a baseline: Create a foundation of data so improvements can be accurately measured and documented against this baseline.
- Value stream map update: Update the value stream map with all incoming data
- Make “quick-hit” improvements: If data and risk analysis shows that partial benefits can be made, and there is a process to track these process modifications, make the quick improvements and continue with the project. Document these “quick-hit” improvements and ideas that arise but continue with the DMAIC project.
- Prepare for Measure gate review
All points below must be addressed by the end of the Measure stage:
- Fully developed current-state value stream map
- Reliable data on critical inputs (X’s) and critical outputs (Y’s). Data should be able to analyze defects, variation, process flow, and speed.
- Baseline measurements of lead time, process capability, etc.
- Revisit and redetermine improvement goals
- A capable measurement system should be developed
- Revise the project charter if data reveals previously unidentified information
Identifying the variables that impact the input and output data that are specifically tied to project goals. This stage will unearth critical insights into where, how, and why a process is not as efficient or productive as it can be.
Steps to Analyze…
- Conduct value analysis: Clearly define value-add, non-value-add, and business non-value add steps in a process.
- Calculate Process Cycle Efficiency (PCE): Compare data to world-class benchmarks to see how much improvement is needed but keep goals within reason and achievable.
- Analyze the flow: Watch and record bottlenecks, constraints in the process, rework points, and assess their impact on throughput and the processes’ ability to meet customer demands.
- Explain inefficiencies: Use brainstorming, C&E diagrams, FMEA, and any tools at a team’s disposal to list potential causes of any process inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
- Narrow the search: Find the root causes and significant cause-and-effect relationships after identifying all potential inefficiencies.
- Prepare for Analyze gate review
Deliverables for the Analyze stage include:
- Documentation of potential causes of inefficiencies, quality issues, etc.
- Data charts and analyses clearly showing the link between targeted input and process (X’s) and critical output (Y)
- Identification of value-add and non-value-add work
- Process cycle efficiency calculation
This is the time to execute a full-scale implementation of the improvement strategy.
Steps to Improve…
- List potential solutions: Begin by taking the confirmed cause-and-effect relationship from Analyze and start listing potential solutions. This is the time to get creative with potential solutions.
- Evaluate, select, and optimize: Take the best solutions and flesh out the ideas. Develop criteria to track potential improvements, document results. Be willing to alter and update these solutions to ultimately develop the optimal solution.
- Develop the “To Be” value stream map: Revise the existing value stream map to reflect what the process will become after the newly implemented changes. Include projections on cost and time savings, quality improvements, etc.
- Develop and begin pilot solution: List and assign tasks to be performed during the pilot solution test phase. Train the team members that will be participating. Document the results of the pilot along with new ideas for improvements as they arise.
- Check project goals: Compare the results of the pilot to baseline.
- Develop and execute a full-scale implementation plan
- Prepare for Improve gate review
Critical deliverables required at the end of the Improve process:
- For a quality-improvement project: Develop tested, robust solutions shown to affect the proven causes (X’s) that affect the critical output (Y)
- For a Lean project: Document results of the chosen Lean best practice or solution applied to the project
- Developing an improved process that is stable, predictable and meets all company requirement
The last step in the DMAIC process is to complete all project work and pass on the improved process to the individual or team responsible for the newly improved process. The new process owner should be given the procedures for maintaining the gains made.
Steps to Control…
- Develop documentation to continue support: To sustain full-scale implementation, ensure documentation and support materials that clearly define and outline the process and procedures.
- Implement updated process
- Lock in the process: Create measures that prevent people from reverting to the old process.
- Monitor implementation: Watch, interact, and collect data to make additional improvements as needed.
- Develop Process Control Plans and hand off control to process owner: Pass the process responsibility back to the process owner if control changed hands during DMAIC.
- Audit Results: Measure improvements using proven data points.
- Finalize Project: Document ideas about how this project process improvements can be applied to the company as a whole. Hold the Control gate review. Communicate and share the documentation of project methods and results with others in the organization. Celebrate a completed project!
- Validate performance and financial results: After the project has been improved for several months, review the results and ensure improvements are in-line with expectations.
- Documented plan to transition improved process back to process owner, participants, and the individual in charge of implementing the DMAIC process
- Comparative data and metrics to show and prove the improved process is a step forward from the old process
- Operational training, feedback, and control documents
- A clear and concise system for monitoring the implemented solution
- Specific metrics that will be used for consistent process auditing
- Completed project documentation, lessons learned, and recommendations for additional opportunities down the road.
Improving Processes with DMAIC
DMAIC is only part of the Six Sigma methodology. Six Sigma is a broad, proven, and efficient way to drive actionable positive results and make long-lasting improvements to any business. DMAIC is a critical aspect of Six Sigma and the steps above are valuable as reference materials but to truly take advantage of all the benefits that come along with the Six Sigma methodology, consulting with a professional or beginning the journey to becoming a Six Sigma Black Belt is highly recommended.
The DMAIC process is made up of many moving parts. It is highly recommended that no steps are skipped, even if a solution may seem obvious. Each phase within the DMAIC process is critical in addressing a process improvement. However, following each step along the way will ultimately help any company identify, analyze, and improve a process while setting up a foundation that will encourage continuous improvements as time goes on.