The five steps of the DMAIC cycle

The DMAIC methodology uses a process-step structure. Steps generally are sequential; however, some activities from various steps may occur concurrently or may be iterative. Deliverables for a given step must be completed prior to formal gate review approval. Step Reviews do occur sequentially. The DMAIC five steps are Step

  1. DEFINE the problem and scope the work effort of the project team. The description of the problem should include the pain felt by the customer and/or business as well as how long the issue has existed. Hence, identify the customer(s), the project goals, and timeframe for completion. The appropriate types of problems have unlimited scope and scale, from employee problems to issues with the production process or advertising. Regardless of the type of problem, it should be systemic—part of an existing, steady-state process wherein the problem is not a one-time event, but has caused pain for a couple of cycles.
  2. MEASURE the current process or performance. Identify what data is available and from what source. Develop a plan to gather it. Gather the data and summarize it, telling a story to describe the problem. This usually involves utilization of graphical tools.
  3. ANALYZE the current performance to isolate the problem. Through analysis (both statistical and qualitatively), begin to formulate and test hypotheses about the root cause of the problem.
  4. IMPROVE the problem by selecting a solution. Based on the identified root cause(s) in the prior step, directly address the cause with an improvement. Brainstorm potential solutions, prioritize them based on customer requirements, make a selection, and test to see if the solution resolves the problem.
  5. CONTROL the improved process or product performance to ensure the target(s) are met. Once the solution has resolved the problem, the improvements must be standardized and sustained over time. The standard-operating-procedures may require revision, and a control plan should be put in place to monitor ongoing performance. The project team transitions the standardized improvements and sustaining control plan to the process players and closes out the project.

The DMAIC method is primarily based on the application of statistical process control, quality tools, and process capability analysis; it is not a product development methodology. It can be used to help redesign a process—any process, given that the redesign fixes the initial process problem.

To be implemented, the method requires four components:

  • A measurement system (a gauge) of the process or product/service offering in trouble.
  • Standard toolset that supports tasks to produce deliverables (including statistical, graphical, and qualitative tools and techniques).
  • An ability to define an adjustment factor(s) to correct the process or product/service offering back on target.
  • A control scheme to maintain the improvement or correction over time by implementing a control plan with a monitoring system to audit the response performance against statistical control limits and defined action plans if needed.

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