There are many reasons why Six Sigma projects fail. However, these failures can be avoided if you strictly adhere to the roadmap. I have executed numerous projects, with many being highly successful, but some failing. In every instance of failure, we deviated from the proven path to success, the DMAIC roadmap. As simple as these five steps may seem, they can often be challenging to complete. If you find this to be the case, my advice to you is to “stay on the path”. Don’t skip a single step. If you remain on the path, you will find success.

DMAIC: The Five-Step Process

So, what is the DMAIC methodology? It stands for Define the issue, Measure the current state, Analyze and identify opportunities, Improve by implementing the best opportunities, and Control the new process to maintain the gains. You begin every project at Define, working your way through each step until you’ve implemented Controls to maintain your gains. What many of us do unconsciously is we identify a problem (Define) and solve it (Improve). Most of the time, you’ll find that within a year, a month, or even a week, the problem resurfaces. What went wrong? We missed the other steps of the DMAIC roadmap. Allow me to delve into each step.

D – Define

The objective of Define is to pinpoint the issue and the real NEED to improve it. I refer to this need as “the burning platform”. It cannot just be a desirable thing to do; it must be something that will impact the company’s bottom line.

The second part of the Define objective is to gain alignment and commitment to solve this issue from both the project sponsor and the project team. This also includes the team members’ supervision. We need their commitment to ensure they won’t redirect the team member’s focus to lower priorities than this project.

M – Measure

The objective of Measure is to, as a team, physically and factually understand the existing process. This means collecting facts and data, not opinions. While everyone has an opinion, few have the facts to support it. I’m not discounting opinions because most people down in the trenches (which is where you have to go) are the experts and have a solid understanding of what’s happening. However, they often lack the data to substantiate it. We listen to them carefully, then collect the data to verify what is happening. Note that I said “happening”; this isn’t always what the expert predicts. With the facts and data, we can now revisit the expert and see if they agree with what we’ve found. Usually, they do and are surprised by the findings.

The second part of the Measure objective is to compile the data you’ve collected into a characterization of the process’s current state (the baseline for your project). This will show how severe things are, or aren’t. Most of the time, things will be worse than initially thought. In some cases, you may find that things are not bad at all. Then, you need to explain your results to the sponsor and, if they agree, close the project. Sometimes, even the sponsor’s opinion of what is wrong is not backed by facts and data. So when you gather them, it becomes clear that this was not an issue.

A – Analyze

The objective of Analyze is to take the current state data and scrutinize it to determine the root causes of the issue. These root causes become opportunities for improvement. Measure data shows you the “surface effects” or “pain” the company feels but not usually the deeper root of the issue. As a result, you will usually find that you need to collect more data related to the measure data that validates the team’s opinion of what is causing the current state issue to exist. Therefore, in Analyze, we must take a “deep dive” into areas that measure highlighted as needing significant improvement.

I – Improve

The objective of Improve is to develop and implement the best plan to enhance the opportunities (root causes) identified in the Analyze step. There are two key phrases in this objective. “Develop the best plan” and “implement the best plan”. Development involves some brainstorming and some experimentation to validate that what you’ve conceived would work. Also included in the development is a plan. In this plan, you’ll need several options so that when the time comes to get an approval to implement, it’s not a take it or leave it situation. Give the sponsor options to choose from, but pick your best set and pitch it to them with a justification of why it’s the best (remember facts and data).

The second key phrase is “implement the best plan”. Whatever is chosen, you need to create a detailed implementation plan. Formulate a timeline and adhere to it.

C – Control

This step is often the most overlooked. The objective of Control is to develop and implement the best controls to maintain the gains that the new process is producing. With anything new, things never work perfectly. When things go wrong, as they inevitably will, you need a plan or controls that will guide everyone on what to do. If you fail to do this when things go wrong, those involved will revert to what they know and have done for years. A control plan can be as simple as a log of what happened, or as complex as a statistical control chart. Whatever it is, it needs to help the people working the new process continue to follow it.

There is a second part to control that has nothing to do with control but has everything to do with recognition. People on and off the team have worked very hard during the project to solve the issue and to keep things running while the team has worked to solve the issue. There should be a celebration and rewards for everyone involved to commemorate the success and their contribution to the solution. In today’s business world, we are quicker to point out faults than successes, so ensure you celebrate your victories.

This is merely a brief overview of the DMAIC process and doesn’t even address questions that should be answered in each step. I plan to write five more articles, each one addressing one of the steps in the DMAIC process in more detail. If you don’t see them on this blog, you will find them at the Six Sigma Knowledge Center.

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