Applying the DMAIC Steps to Process Improvement Projects

By Harry Rever, MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC    |   Director of Six Sigma, IIL 

“Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control” is the Roadmap to Improving Processes

Project managers, in just about any industry, are faced with the challenge of improving the efficiency and productivity of their businesses. To do this, they need to understand the best methodology and tools to study and analyze processes correctly. After all, to improve results, the best approach is to improve the process that gives you those results.

process-under-study

So, it is imperative for project managers to have a rudimentary understanding of process thinking when managing improvement efforts. As shown in the graph above, a process can be broken down into three basic elements: the inputs to the process, the process under study and the outputs from the process. The concept of improvement is quite simple; to improve the outputs of a process, you simply improve the inputs and the process itself. To improve the output (also called the “Y” or the “Key Measure”), identify, measure and improve the inputs and process metrics (also known as the “X’s”). Focusing on the results, the output Y measures instead of the X’s is an after-the-fact, reactive, expensive and inefficient approach to improving results. The concept that Y is a function of X (Y=f(X1, X2, …Xn) is at the core of the: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control; also known as DMAIC, steps.

dmaic-circle

The roadmap for improving processes and key measures of a business is a straightforward, easy to understand set of those five steps. DMAIC is an iterative process that gives structure and guidance to improving processes and productivity in the workplace. Project managers and Six Sigma practitioners apply the DMAIC steps and appropriate analysis tools under each step, to analyze and improve key metrics of a business. Metrics are established, variation is studied and reduced and processes are improved and optimized. The result is improved performance, fewer errors and increased efficiency and productivity.

The DMAIC steps are the true backbone of any process improvement initiative.  The steps make sense, they are easy to understand and they are logical in their sequence. The steps allow a team to adequately scope the problem, measure the current performance, analyze the root causes of problems and inefficiency, test and verify improvement recommendations and then implement changes for sustainability over the long haul. Process improvement projects are the norm these days. Improving key measures is something every project manager is going to be faced with sooner or later; therefore, a project manager should be skilled in the art of applying the DMAIC steps to improve results.

Related Courses: Lean Six Sigma Certification Programs

Understand the Process and then Measure the Process!

The DMAIC steps work because they are understandable and make sense. These steps can be applied to any process, any industry, any company to help guide a process improvement team. Before they can be applied, however, the project leader should lead his or her team to scope the problem, perhaps using a Supplier, Input, Process, Output, and Customer or SIPOC diagram as shown below. Using the SIPOC tool can help project managers scope the problem, think in terms of processes, and help the team pinpoint what and where to measure. The SIPOC tool helps link metrics to the inputs, the process, and the outputs thus allowing for the Y=f(X) thinking.

measurement-points

The SIPOC tool is something than can be done in the Define step of the DMAIC steps.

DEFINE

Essentially the purpose of the Define step is to set your project up for success.  Project managers are familiar with the things that need to be done when starting off a project. Essential project elements are accomplished in this step, such as:

  • Attaining sponsorship for the projectswim-lanes
  • Establishing the project charter and appropriate scope
  • Identifying stakeholders and team members
  • Establishing team ground rules
  • Planning and conducting a successful kickoff meeting

In addition to the normal project deliverables listed above, for a process improvement effort, the project manager would facilitate his or her team in developing an “As-Is” process map. This will help the team not only get on the same page in terms of the process, but also will help the team identify problematic steps in the process. Process maps, or Deployment maps (a.k.a. Swim-lanes), can also be useful in identifying non-value added steps and can be vital in determining process measures.

Lastly, the team may require some basic training on the application of the DMAIC steps so that everyone knows what to do and when to do it.

measure-key-metricMEASURE

The Measure step is often a step which, unfortunately, is skimmed over by most teams.  One of the biggest mistakes made when trying to improve results is to make decisions based on “gut” feeling, intuition or anecdotal information. Instead, what is imperative is to base decisions on facts and data and that is the main goal of the measure step. In the Measure step, the team should:

  • Identify and operationally define key metrics
  • Develop a data collection plan
  • Conduct a measurement system analysis to verify that the data is accurate
  • Stratify the data
  • Establish baseline charts
  • Make charts and graphs to help the team better understand what the process is currently delivering in terms of processing times, errors or defects

ANALYZE

The Analyze step is all about getting to the root cause of the problem. Too often when trying to solve a problem, people or teams tend to focus on a symptom as opposed to the true root cause of the problem. The tools and techniques in the Analyze step lead project teams to gather clues for improvement and ascertain what the root cause, or causes, are that are the most important drivers.

analyze-formula

The Y is a function of X formula is at play in the Analyze step. A team will analyze the process, perhaps using value-added analysis, statistical analysis, or maybe a fishbone chart, a cause and effect diagram, to get to what they think are the root causes. Then the team would gather data on the root causes to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship with the problem. Verifying cause and effect is a crucial step in the Analyze phase; a step which many people, unfortunately, skip or simply take for granted based on their opinions.

IMPROVE

Once a team moves through the Define, Measure and Analyze steps, they are now ready to use what they’ve learned about the process to be innovative when solving the problem at hand. Improve is the step where creative solutions to existing problems can be developed and tested, using various experiment or piloting techniques. The key deliverable in the Improve step is verifiable improvement through measurement.

improve-key-metric

The best ideas for improvement, based on what was learned in Measure and Analyze, are tested and implemented on a limited basis to determine if there is statistical evidence of sustained improvement. Once a team improves a process, the results should become quite clear on a control chart. When stakeholders can see the proof of improved performance, they will be more likely to accept and actually implement the team’s recommendations. Improve is about taking the emotion out of decision making. Improve is about verification and validation of recommendations. Often times, teams make the mistake of thinking they “know” what will work. Thus, they blindly implement what they think is the best solution without proper testing. The result, more times than not, is that there is no measurable or sustainable improvement.

CONTROL

control-swim-lanesThe real strength of the DMAIC steps is the Control step. Too often, teams do a lot of hard work, actually improve the process and results, and then implementation of the improved process doesn’t go smoothly. There is pressure to move on; time isn’t spent on having a smooth transition and the buy-in for full implementation just isn’t quite there. The result is that sustaining the improvement realized in the Improve step becomes difficult.

The purpose of the Control step is to ensure a successful implementation of the team’s recommendation so that long-term success will be attained. The new and improved process will be flowcharted and these new methods will become the new standard operation procedures. Results will continue to be tracked so that any “drift” back to previous results can be monitored and addressed in a proactive manner. The Control step is about the transfer of responsibilities and establishing plans for long-term process control.

Making Better Decisions

Once the DMAIC steps are understood, then managing the process of how to improve results becomes clear and straightforward. If used properly, the following decision tree can lead to better decision making by helping business leaders ask the right questions to avoiding making knee-jerk reactions. Instead, it encourages an understanding of variation and reinforces the use of the DMAIC steps to address as the roadmap to continuous improvement.

decision-making-tree

In Conclusion

The DMAIC steps are a proven roadmap for any process improvement project. There are only five steps so they are relatively easy to remember. They offer a structured approach to solving problems and improving results. There are certain questions to be addressed under each step and certain tools and techniques can be utilized to answer those questions through facts and data.

dmaic-table

When the DMAIC steps are properly applied, they offer any project team an organized approach, a structure, to solving key business problems. The DMAIC steps are flexible and can be used in any industry or with any type of process improvement effort. They just make sense, which is why they are so powerful. Every team leader should be familiar with, and incorporate, the DMAIC steps into all process improvement projects.

Ready to improve your Lean Six Sigma skills? IIL can help. Enroll in a Lean Six Sigma Certification Program. If you have a team to train, request a free consultation.

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About the Author

Harry Rever (MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC) is Director of Lean Six Sigma for International Institute for Learning (IIL). A dynamic presenter and practitioner, he has trained thousands of employees on Six Sigma, process improvement and project management. He is a senior member of ASQ and a member of PMI. Harry can be reached at harry.rever@iil.com. [/trx_infobox]


Lean Six Sigma in healthcare

Applying a Lean Six Sigma Concept to Healthcare

By Anne Foley, MBB, CSSBB, PMP
Director of Lean Six Sigma, IIL

Let me begin by saying that if you have started a diet in 2016, this story might help you stick to it.

I had just filled my plate with goodies at a holiday party when my friend Kim decided to tell me what happened to her eighty-two-year-old mother while recovering from abdominal surgery. (Hospital stories are not known to make us hungry and I ended up dumping my plate of cheese and crackers, but this is a story worth sharing because there are valuable lessons for us all.)

After a successful surgery, Kim’s mother was moved into a semi-private room. When she arrived, the second bed was empty but a few hours later another woman was moved into the bed closest to the window. It took about 24 hours for Kim and her mother to realize that the new roommate was admitted to the hospital for a serious stomach flu that was very contagious.

“Do you really think it’s a good idea for someone with a stomach flu to share a room with anyone, let alone someone who has a large and painful incision across her stomach?” Kim asked the head nurse. The color drained out of the nurse’s face as she knew that a mistake had been made, and she immediately called for someone to find another room for Kim’s mother. Unfortunately, it was too late and Kim’s mother ended up catching that stomach flu. It almost killed her. I won’t share all the details but suffice it to say it was very painful for all involved.

Hospitals are no different than any other business. They are staffed with human beings and none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. That being said, the potential consequences of mistakes in hospitals are far greater than most businesses.

That’s why Lean Six Sigma in healthcare is so critical. The processes that healthcare professionals work within should be error proofed. Another word for error proofing that Lean practitioners use is Poka-Yoke. In Japan, that means to avoid inadvertent errors.

There are three techniques to error proofing a process:

  1. The first and most desired technique is to put a control into the process that will completely close the margin for error. In other words, prevent the mistake from ever occurring. What might that look like in a hospital admission process? The admission system recognizes the word “contagious” in the admission code and automatically assigns that person to their own room. Simple, right? But maybe their system doesn’t allow for this type of control.
  2. The second technique is to have some sort of an alarm or signal if a mistake has occurred, allowing the mistake to be self-corrected. If the hospital system did not allow for automated assignment, maybe it has the intelligence to sound an alarm if a human assigns someone with a contagious disease to a shared room. This relies on the admissions personnel to self-correct, so it’s not as effective as the first technique but sometimes there isn’t a choice.
  3. The third technique is to have the flow of the process stop before the undesired consequence. In this example, maybe the contagious patient is assigned to a shared room but the barcode on their patient bracelet sets off an alarm if they are wheeled into a room that has another patient.

The bottom line mindset of Poka-Yoke is that while it is fine to tell your workers not to make mistakes, it is smarter to put a process in place that makes it impossible to make them. Then let hospital personnel focus on helping the patients heal versus reacting to mistakes.

Is it expensive to put controls in place and prevent mistakes? Sometimes. But not nearly as expensive as a loss of life and/or potential lawsuit!

 

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Lean Six Sigma training at www.iil.com/leansixsigma. [/trx_infobox]

anneAnne F. Foley, PMP, MBB, CSSBB has been teaching Lean Six Sigma (DMAIC) and Project Management for eighteen years. Anne has served as the Director of Lean Six Sigma at IIL for the past thirteen years. She is also the author of The Passages to Peace (a novel) and a frequent contributor to Project Management, Lean Six Sigma and other various publications. Anne has a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University.


5 Lean Six Sigma Concepts to Help You Reach Your Goals

By Anne Foley, MBB, CSSBB, PMP
Director of Lean Six Sigma, IIL

There is a popular quote that says the definition of insanity is doing the same things the exact same way while expecting the results to change. That is what tends to happen when we have a goal without a plan. It would be like a farmer expecting to reap a harvest without planting anything.

Here are five concepts from the Lean Six Sigma framework that will help you to reap the harvest you need in 2016. Not only have I used these concepts to make improvements to processes and results at work, I have used them to accomplish personal goals.

Concept 1 – Clearly Define the Necessary Improvement

Saying you want a better year in 2016 isn’t enough. What is it that you want to improve? Identify the starting point and a realistic goal. Do you want to increase sales or reduce billing errors?  The more specific you are about your goal, the higher your probability of achieving it.  This also applies to personal goals. For example, many people resolve to lose weight in the New Year. That’s a good start but things go south quickly when they try the same tactics that they’ve tried in years past, expecting different results.

Concept 2 – Identify the Factors That Impact Results

There is a statistical expression that you probably learned at some point of your educational journey that states y = f (x). If you were like me, you quickly forgot this expression because you had no idea how it can help problem solving and goal fulfillment. Believe it or not, this easily forgotten statistical expression is a key part of improving results.

As a quick review, y is the statistical symbol for an output. It is something measurable that you want to change. In our weight example, the “Y” would represent weight loss. X is the statistical symbol for inputs or factors that generate the “Y” output. The factors are going to be things like caloric intake, exercise, and water intake, just to name a few. So the first step is to identify all the factors that impact the result.

For example, I once ran something called a Design of Experiment (DOE) to determine what the correct factors and levels of those factors are to help me lose weight. I learned that my optimal recipe (pun intended) for weight loss is to eat 250 calories, five times a day, and drink no less than 64 ounces of water daily. Additionally, I have to walk and jog in intervals for 30 minutes per day – five days per week. For me, that results in a 2-3 pound weight loss per week. I don’t share this with you because I expect it to be your optimal recipe. The levels of these factors might be different for you but you could easily identify your own factors and levels by learning to run a Design of Experiment.  This means experimenting with key factors in a controlled environment and measuring the results.

Concept 3 – Expand your “Line of Sight”

Knowledge is the power we need to accomplish our goals. Measurement is a great way to gain that knowledge. What things do you measure? In your business, I expect you to measure revenue, labor costs and some sort of customer satisfaction metric. What about in your personal life? I know someone who sets a goal to read a certain number of books each year and keeps track of how many he reads. I once had a student who decided to measure all the factors around his family’s consumption of gasoline for their cars. He tracked how often they purchased gasoline, the number of miles per gallon they were getting, the number of times they drove somewhere per week, and where they drove and why. The information he uncovered from his data collection helped his family reduce their gasoline expenditures by $1,000 that year.

If your goal is to save more money this year the first thing to evaluate are the factors that will allow for this. The obvious ones are to reduce expenses or increase your income/revenue. Whichever one you chose should be broken down into the factors that will drive that result. In the previous example they decided to focus on the reduction of gasoline expenditures.  Others may focus on reducing food expenditures. There are many paths to the same result and each of us has the freedom to choose our own path.

Concept 4– Get Rid of Waste

Another goal of the Lean Six Sigma methodology is to reduce the amount of time wasted in trying to fulfill an objective. By reducing the waste, you speed up the process. One of my favorite techniques from Lean is utilized to create better organization in your life. It is called 5S.

  • Sort. Take a look around your work or home environment. Do you see anything that is outdated, broken, or just collecting dust because you never use it? Get rid of it.
  • Set in Order. Once you remove all the waste, evaluate what is left and find a place for each item. That place should be clearly labeled and arranged in the order of use. If the extension cord for the snow remover is located across the garage from the snow blower… behind the stack of boxes… rearrange the garage. The point of this step is to promote the most efficient flow, with the things that are used most often, located in an area that is easily accessible.
  • Shine. This is also known as systematic cleaning. At a pre-determined time – daily, weekly or monthly depending on what space you are in, clean out the space. If you notice that inventory is low, follow the process to refill. Things that you frequently use should be inventoried. There are two goals for this step. First, to ensure that the space is kept clean and free from things that could cause problems. Second, to ensure that you can clearly see when you are low in inventory so you can restock.
  • Standardize. Make it a point to put things back in the same space after each use. The rest of your colleagues or family needs to do this too. That means labeling spaces and making sure everyone knows where the most commonly used items belong.
  • Sustain. Schedule a 5S review on a regular basis. Most people do some sort of spring or fall cleaning and it’s a large undertaking. If you do this frequently, those types of full day cleanings can be spent doing something more enjoyable.

Concept 5 – Put Things in a Logical Order

When ATM machines first came out, the user got their card back prior to the money and 60% of users left their card in the machine within the first year. I guess the cliché “take the money and run” is true. Banks re-arranged the order of the process to have the card come back before the money and it reduced the problem by 90%. Things have a natural flow and you’ll have fewer defects/costs if you set up your process to match that flow.

If you are feeling hopeful about 2016, take advantage of the energy surge that the New Year brings. Apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to different aspects of your life and you will dramatically improve the likelihood of meeting your goals!

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Lean Six Sigma training at www.iil.com/leansixsigma. [/trx_infobox]

anneAnne F. Foley, PMP, MBB, CSSBB has been teaching Lean Six Sigma (DMAIC) and Project Management for eighteen years. Anne has served as the Director of Lean Six Sigma at IIL for the past thirteen years. She is also the author of The Passages to Peace (a novel) and a frequent contributor to Project Management, Lean Six Sigma and other various publications. Anne has a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University.