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DMAIC: Make continuous improvement of your processes a reality

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Jul 12, 2021 2:08:17 PM
improvement of your processes

Life is a process”. If you think about it, it doesn't take too much philosophizing to realize that this is so. Life is a process.

You wake up, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, have breakfast... the daily routine. On the way to work, you go through the process of transporting yourself. At work, all the activities you do are part of a larger process. Even looking at it from a macro perspective, the typical "you are born, you grow, and you die". In nature, as they taught you in school with the little bean, plants have a process of growth, and butterflies have their process of metamorphosis.  

Where am I going with all this? That throughout life we are in a process of growth, of learning, of modification, of constant changes, and just as it applies at a personal level, it also applies at a business level. Continuous improvement is key, businesses cannot remain static in a market that moves at high speeds, it would be like slowing down on a highway where cars go at 120 km/h. 

That is why it is essential for your business to understand your processes, especially those that impact the customer experience. If you understand what you do, find out where the problems are and what to do to solve them, you will have an efficient and effective process capable of satisfying customers. To help you put change into practice, I will explain a methodology used in different industries and well-known companies.  

If you want to know more about customer experience, I invite you to read: What Is Customer Experience and What Is It for? And Guide: Customer Experience and its applications to your business 

Index 

  • What is the Six Sigma philosophy? 
  • What is DMAIC? 
  • What is it for and when to use it? 
  • Tools for each phase 

What is the Six Sigma philosophy? 

Six Sigma is a methodology developed as a tool for controlling and reducing process variations. Its name refers to 6 standard deviations from the mean, that is, 3.4 defects per million: this from a statistical point of view. Basically, this work philosophy adjusts processes to a low tolerance with respect to irregularities. 

To have such precision of course you need to apply a whole series of tools that allow the continuous improvement of the process, that is, now a problem arises or a practice with opportunity for development is detected, it is sought how to solve and control, eventually reaching a process with little variation. 

Within the framework of this philosophy there are several tools, but in this blog, I will explain the DMAIC methodology, which will give you the structure with steps to follow to carry out the continuous improvement you are looking for. If you want to read about other tools that can help you with the analysis of processes and improvement of customer experience, I invite you to see  Secret Tool for a Better Customer Journey Map: Lean Six Sigma 

Objetive

What is DMAIC? 

DMAIC is a highly effective methodology made up of 5 phases, which are represented in the acronym. As I mentioned before, it is part of the Six Sigma toolbox and has a problem-solving approach, providing a structured and clear framework. 

Its phases are: 

  • Define 
  • Measure 
  • Analyze 
  • Improve 
  • Control 

DMAIC

Before going further into the explanation, it is key to understand that prior to the application of the methodology you must choose a good project. In your company there may be several problems, but not all of them have the same level of importance or are suitable to be analyzed. Like the SMART objectives, you need to establish criteria for project selection: 

  • A specific problem, whose effects are clear within an existing process in the company. 
  • A measurable process: check if it is possible to collect data since you are looking for a quantifiable improvement. 
  • It must be achievable, a project that makes a difference but is not too complex to the point of being almost impossible to tackle. 
  • A relevant problem, its solution must provide a benefit to the company (reduce time, reduce defects, reduce costs, greater customer satisfaction, among others). 
  • Timely in a specific period, the improvements must be reflected in a reasonable time horizon. 

What is it for and when to use it? 

The DMAIC methodology is used in many projects, the reason is in its functions and all that it contributes to the improvement of a process. Here are a few points: 

  • It allows the continuous improvement of an existing process, through the resolution of problems with unknown causes.  
  • It leads you to eliminate costly variations in your processes, whether they are manufacturing or services.  
  • It allows you to go deeper into the process, from a clear definition of the problem to the root cause analysis to find the solution, reflecting quantitative and sustainable results over time.  
  • Eventually, you can have a defect-free process with continuous, long-term performance. 

Regarding when to use it, it will depend mainly on the magnitude of the project. I mentioned before that the project must be achievable, but you should not get confused and think of projects that are too simple. You are not going to apply a whole 5-step methodology to any problem that arises, especially when the cause is easy to identify, and the immediate solution is supported by convincing data. 

Otherwise, the problem is complex, its effects on the process are clear and of high risk to the company, you are not sure of the root cause and the solutions should definitely be supported by data, but there are no corresponding measurements yet. In this scenario you should focus on developing DMAIC, since the methodology follows a series of steps and you do not move on to the next step until you complete the current phase, you make sure you do not omit crucial information or actions. 

In other words, you keep a clear order. You define the problem, objective, and scope, you understand the entire process and its critical elements. Once you understand the problem in your process, you can measure the performance of the current situation and establish the indicators (KPI's) that will help you visualize the changes quantitatively. With data, you can move on to analysis, where you should find root causes to your problem and prioritize the most important ones. Having a clear understanding of what is causing the problem, you then set about finding solutions and implementing them to reflect an improvement that you can then monitor, continually re-evaluating. 

Tools for each phase 

As you have seen so far, the methodology follows a logical sequence. Now that you understand what to do in the definition, measurement, analysis, improvement, and control phase, I will show you which tools can facilitate the activities that correspond to each stage. 

Tools DMAIC

These are some of the tools you can use, but there are many more. Moreover, you should not necessarily apply all of them to the same project, as this will depend on the process and its intrinsic characteristics. 

In conclusion, remember that we must be in a state of constant change and your business, like the butterfly, must undergo metamorphosis to reach its ideal state, but you should not stop there, because continuous improvement will lead you to always look for a better option for your processes, reevaluating periodically. 

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