DMAIC Framework

Definition of DMAIC Framework

DMAIC (pronounced də-MAY-ick) is a data-driven technique used to improve processes. It is a key tool of the Six Sigma methodology, but it can be implemented as a standalone improvement method or as part of other process initiatives like Lean. The technique is simple, yet powerful. It brings structure to the improvement process and helps teams explore potential solutions, decide on a course of action, and implement process controls in short order.

DMAIC is the acronym for Define, measure, analyze, improve, and control which represents the five phases that make up the process, including the tools to use to complete those phases. It is an integral part of a Six Sigma initiative, but in general, can be implemented as a standalone quality improvement procedure or as part of other process improvement initiatives such as lean.

  • Define the problem, improvement activity, opportunity for improvement, project goals, and customer (internal and external) requirements.
    • Project charter to define the focus, scope, direction, and motivation for the improvement team
    • Voice of the customer to understand feedback from current and future customers indicating offerings that satisfy, delight, and dissatisfy them
    • Value stream map to provide an overview of an entire process, starting and finishing at the customer, and analyzing what is required to meet customer needs
  • Measure process performance.
    • Process map for recording the activities performed as part of a process
    • Capability analysis to assess the ability of a process to meet specifications
    • Pareto Chart to analyze the frequency of problems or causes
  • Analyze the process to determine the root causes of variation and poor performance (defects).
    • Root cause analysis (RCA) to uncover causes
    • Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) for identifying a possible product, service, and process failures
    • Multi-vari chart to detect different types of variation within a process
  • Improve process performance by addressing and eliminating the root causes.
    • Design of experiments (DOE) to solve problems from complex processes or systems where there are many factors influencing the outcome and where it is impossible to isolate one factor or variable from the others
    • Kaizen event to introduce rapid change by focusing on a narrow project and using the ideas and motivation of the people who do the work
  • Control the improved process and future process performance.
    • Quality control plan to document what is needed to keep an improved process at its current level
    • Statistical process control (SPC) for monitoring process behavior
    • 5S to create a workplace suited for visual control
    • Mistake proofing (poka-yoke) to make errors impossible or immediately detectable

The Major Steps in DMAIC[1]

Almost all implementations of Six Sigma employ DMAIC for project management and completion of process improvement projects. However, DMAIC is not necessarily formally tied to Six Sigma and can be used regardless of an organization’s use of Six Sigma. It is a general and very useful approach to the management of change and improvement. DMAIC is a generalization of Walter Shewhart’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which provides a roadmap to help people understand how to integrate the various tools into an overall approach to quality improvement.

The DMAIC steps are illustrated graphically in the Figure below. Notice that there are “tollgates” between each of the major steps in DMAIC. At a tollgate, a project team presents its work to managers and “owners” of the process. In a Six Sigma organization, the tollgate participants also would include the project Champion, MBBs, and other BBs not working directly on the project. Tollgates are where the project is reviewed to ensure that it is on track. They provide a continuing opportunity to evaluate whether the team can successfully complete the project on schedule. Tollgates also present an opportunity to provide guidance regarding the use of specific technical tools and other information about the problem. Organizational problems and other barriers to success, as well as strategies for dealing with them, are often identified during tollgate reviews. Tollgates are critical to the overall problem-solving process. It is important that these reviews be conducted very soon after the team completes each step.

DMAIC Proces
source: Douglas C. Montgomery and William H. Woodall

The DMAIC structure encourages creative thinking about the problem and its solution within the definition of the original product, process, or service. When the process is operating so poorly that it is necessary to abandon the original process and start over, or if it is determined that a new product or service is required, then the improved step of DMAIC actually becomes a process design or re-design step. In a Six Sigma organization, that means that a design for Six Sigma (DFSS) effort is required.

DMAIC Implementation Approaches[2]

There are two approaches to implementing DMAIC:

  • The first is the team approach in which individuals who are skilled in the tools and method, such as quality or process improvement specialists, lead a team. The team members work on the project part-time while still taking care of their everyday duties. The specialist team leader might be assigned to several projects simultaneously, which are usually long-term projects that take several months to complete.
  • The second tactic involves the kaizen method, an intense progression through the DMAIC process typically completed within a week. Prep work is completed by the quality or process improvement specialist and is centered on the Define and Measure phases. The rest of the phases are completed by a team of individuals who have been pulled from their regular duties for the duration of the kaizen approach.

In most cases, the changes are piloted during the event, and full-scale implementation is completed after the event. It is crucial that the impact of these changes – whether they’re desired or not – is closely monitored. The advantage of this approach is the ability to make rapid changes. (The case study Kellogg’s kaizen spells success in a product relaunch is a great example of this tactic in action.)

The real strength of the DMAIC steps is the Control step. Too often, teams manage to improve the process and get the results, but then struggle to implement the improved process smoothly. There’s pressure to move on, time isn’t spent on ensuring 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 must be captured on a flow chart and these new methods will become the new standard operating 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.

It’s important to realize that DMAIC isn’t an implementation method for best practices; it’s a method to discover best practices. Lastly, DMAIC is a data-driven, customer-focused, structured problem-solving framework that builds on learning from previous phases to arrive at permanent solutions for difficult problems. Define will tell your team what to measure. The measure will tell your team what to analyze. Analyze will tell your team what to improve. And improve will tell them what to control.

When to Use DMAIC[3]

When improving a current process, if the problem is complex or the risks are high, DMAIC should be the go-to method. Its discipline discourages a team from skipping crucial steps and increases the chances of a successful project, making DMAIC a process most projects should follow. If the risks are low and there is an obvious solution, some of the DMAIC steps could be skipped, but only if:

  • Trustworthy data show this is the best solution for your problem.
  • Possible unintended outcomes have been identified and mitigation plans have been developed.
  • There is buy-in from the process owner.

If the obvious solution can’t be proven with trustworthy data, a DMAIC project should be launched.

Scoping a DMAIC Project[4]

One of the most critical aspects of a Six Sigma project is to provide a measurable benefit in terms of cost, quality, and timing. Subsequently, a project that cannot be completed in a reasonable period of time should not be accepted as a Six Sigma project. While this selectivity may seem shortsighted, it merely reflects the reality of resource allocation. Because resources are limited, attention should be given to Six Sigma projects that have the highest benefit-to-cost ratio in the shortest amount of time. A description of a DMAIC project should therefore include the following.:

  • Problem: The project should address an organizational performance problem that has an unknown solution.
  • Goals: The project should have clear numerical goals directly tied to a well-defined set of metrics that correspond to the opportunity.
  • Project tracking: Progress should be tracked through the metrics.
  • Business benefits: The project should culminate in a measurable cost, schedule, or quality benefit.
  • Implementation schedule: The project benefit must be realized in a reasonable period, typically three to six months.
  • Process: The project should follow the DMAIC process for problem-solving.
  • Tools: Six Sigma tools should be used when following the DMAIC methodology.
  • Capability and confidence: The project should serve to increase the self-confidence of the BB and project team in utilizing the DMAIC methodology. Simultaneously, successful results increase corporate confidence in the Six Sigma effort.
  • Process orientation: The project should be viewed from the orientation of improving a process, not necessarily addressing a resultant issue

Understanding these requirements of a Six Sigma DMAIC project is essential to the effective scoping of the project. Without this understanding, it is very difficult to wade through the particulars of a project to narrow the scope and obtain a clear, concise objective with boundaries that will enable a timely resolution of a problem. The importance of effective project scope is evident, but one of the most difficult concepts for inexperienced BBs and Champions or sponsors to grasp is that of a focused scope for powerful problem-solving. Precise scoping allows the BB and project team to stay within the specific guidelines of a DMAIC project. The DMAIC process is analogous to a funnel. A broad organizational issue is progressively scoped, initially using the definitions of a Six Sigma project and then the Six Sigma tools. The result is a problem that can be easily understood and readily addressed with laser-type focus. Scoping is a vital part of the define phase and can have a long-term impact on a Six Sigma program’s ultimate success.

Tools Used for DMAIC[5]

Many continuous improvement tools and techniques can be helpful during a DMAIC project. Value stream maps, A3s, fishbone diagrams, and Catchball can all be of great use. Continuous improvement software is also a must for DMAIC. It helps structure the effort, improve communications, collect related documents, calculate results, and preserve the record of the project.

DMAIC is an effective way to improve improvement. If you want projects to flow smoothly, find lasting solutions to difficult problems, and obtain measurable results, DMAIC is an excellent approach.

When DMAIC is NOT The Answer[6]

Problems that have obvious root causes and known solutions rarely require DMAIC; the solutions should just be implemented. If the goal is “Implement a new call monitoring system,” then DMAIC is not appropriate. An appropriate goal for a DMAIC project would be: “Find out why our technical support resolution rate is so low and improve it.” It may be that the solution would somehow involve implementing or enhancing call monitoring, but it is just as conceivable that the solution would be completely unrelated to monitoring and would instead require improvements to call routing.

DMAIC is not intended as a replacement for effective leadership and change management. If leaders are having trouble obtaining buy-in from their employees or supervisors regarding improvements that are needed, the answer is not to charter a DMAIC project. If this is happening, it is a sign that the proper framework and culture for Six Sigma have not been fully established. So not only is DMAIC not necessary when the solution is already known, but a DMAIC project is unlikely to go smoothly in the absence of a business process management system and sufficient leadership support.

See Also

Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma
DMADV Framework
Project Charter
Root Cause Analysis
PDCA Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act)
Kaizen Philosophy