Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.
H. James Harrington
Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control Framework
Lean Six Sigma is more than a process improvement methodology and it has been used successfully to solve problems in which the root causes and the solutions are not obvious. When facing a complex problem, cross-functional teamwork and collaboration is invaluable because a variety of perspectives can be used to gather data, analyze the current state, determine the real root causes and inspire a creative solution. DMAIC works for a wide variety of projects. The DMAIC framework, however, if followed rigorously can take some time and time is not always a luxury. In these cases, teams can still be successful if they are flexible and adapt the framework to the situation and time constraints. Then there are simple and obvious problems where it is sensible to use basic problem-solving tools that are proven to be effective and which facilitate defining the issue and developing solutions.
Simple and Obvious Problem-Solving Tools
- Affinity Diagrams
- Fishbone Diagrams
- Prioritization Matrices
- Process Mapping
While these tools are valuable for solving problems, it’s important to be able to discern between simple and complex projects. Our human nature leads us to move into ‘solve’ mode and to skip over the rigor, however, if first time right or six sigma is your vision then this is a temptation that should be resisted. DMAIC ensures resources are used efficiently and effectively as the time invested upfront will pay dividends later on.
If you decide to not use the DMAIC framework, ask the following questions:
- Do I have the data that shows that this idea is the best possible solution?
- What has led me to believe the solution is really going to solve the problem?
- What are the risks involved in selecting this solution?
Be honest with yourself, and if you are nervous about the answers and the results you have achieved, trust your instincts and use the DMAIC framework.
- The purpose of this step is to define the purpose, objectives and scope of the project
- Collecting information on the customers and processes involved are essential tasks
- Defining expectations regarding specific deliverables lays a foundation for success
- The purpose of this step is dedicated to developing, implementing and validate the data collection plan
- Investigate the issue thoroughly to understand what is currently happening
- If done well, at the end of this step, the team will be able know the answer to a series of questions related to when, where, what and how
- The purpose of this step is to develop theories of roots causes
- Confirm the theories with data, findings and evidence
- Determine the root cause of the issue
- The purpose of the improve step is to identify and test (through pilot programs) alternative solutions
- Select the best solution from among the alternative choices
- Design an implementation plan
- The purpose of this step is to develop and implement a monitoring plan, standardized process, documented procedures and a response plan
- The final step is to transfer ownership of the new approach back to the process owner with confidence in his/her ability to make the changes stick
By following the DMAIC framework to improve performance, organizations maximize the probability of sustainable improvements that will enable them to compete effectively in today’s marketplace, earn their prospects’ business and develop loyal customers.
Reference: Purdue University, Lean Six Sigma, 2014.