DMAIC Process: The 5 Phases Of Lean Sigma

It has always been the end goal of companies to improve their sales and profits — numbers that in a way, represent product and service quality. With new technologies continually making their way into the business landscape, the race to the bottom line is more competitive than ever. Organizations are scrambling to improve their operations and become more efficient, in general. This is one of the reasons why more businesses are adopting DMAIC, one of the core techniques that act as the foundation for Six Sigma projects or any process improvement project, for that matter.

With proper implementation of DMAIC, businesses have shown to benefit in several areas, including cutting down the cost of poor quality, boosting revenue, and improving business performance and productivity on the whole. 

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What is DMAIC?

When we look into the definition of DMAIC, it is a five-phase strategy for improving a wide variety of organizational processes, whether it’s software development, manufacturing, or some other process. While it’s associated with Six Sigma, this strategy can also be applied to lean and other process-improvement strategies. DMAIC is a data-driven problem-solving technique designed to identify and address inefficiencies in a process, which improves its outcomes and makes these improvements more predictable. 

The acronym stands for the five phases — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, and it is pronounced “duh-may-ik.”

The DMAIC methodology has its roots in the PDSA (“plan, do, study, act”) cycle developed by statistician Walter A. Shewhart at Bell Laboratories in the 1930s. But the technique as we know it today has been shaped by some of the largest organizations in the world such as Toyota, Motorola, GE, and Ford Motor Company. You can read more about the history behind DMAIC and Six Sigma developments here.

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Why the DMAIC Process?

Before we dive into the main process, there’s one additional step that some companies employ in order to figure out whether DMAIC is the right approach to solve their problems. This step is called “Recognize”. 

The reason why this step is important, despite not being formally a part of DMAIC, is that DMAIC cannot be applied to all situations. There are specific conditions where this technique can be the right fit for process improvement. Recognizing the right conditions and choosing the right problem to solve are key to understanding whether DMAIC is the right tool for you. 

How do you evaluate those conditions? Here are three main factors to consider:

  • There are apparent inefficiencies and defects in the existing process.
  • There is potential to reduce variables such as lead times or other flaws while improving variables like productivity or cost savings.
  • The condition is assessable, and the outcomes can be understood appropriately through quantifiable means.

After you have evaluated the above factors, you can conclusively determine if your process can benefit from implementing DMAIC.

The Five Phases of DMAIC

The DMAIC process follows five key phases, which are intended to lay the groundwork for your process improvement, chart goals, track progress, and analyze results. The five phases (and an explanation of each) are:

1. Define

During this phase, we select the most critical and impactful opportunities for improvement. This phase is also about mapping the process, focus, scope, and the ultimate goal as well as understanding how the problem affects all stakeholders. The way to jumpstart a DMAIC cycle is by crafting the problem statement.

The other critical steps at this stage are:

  • Identify the opportunities with high potential for improvement
  • Outline the scope of the project
  • Create a value stream map (VSM) to document every step in the process
  • Develop a voice of the customer table (VOCT) to pinpoint the customer needs
  • Identify all stakeholders
  • Estimate project impact and completion 
  • Identify and document business opportunity
  • Draw out other related processes

A successful Define phase helps you move forward with clear, well-defined objectives and timeline for project completion.

2. Measure

The Measure phase is where baselines are drawn to assess the performance of a given process. Without having sound benchmarks for comparison, it’s difficult to track improvements. Hence, at this stage, we:

  • Develop the data collection methods to be used to measure success 
  • Recognize input, processes, and output indicators
  • Collect and examine current state data
  • Outline the failure modes and effects analysis 
  • Implement process capability analysis

The use of visual management tools such as control charts, bar charts, and run charts etc. can help you achieve better results at this stage

3. Analyze

In this phase, your goal is to identify and test the underlying causes of problems to make sure that improvement takes place from deep down where the problems stem from.

The critical steps at this stage include:

After this phase, you will be able to capture and document all opportunities for improvement successfully, and your plan of action will start taking shape.

4. Improve

With the analysis done and the data in front of you, now is the time to start making the improvements. 

This stage includes the following activities:

  • Brainstorm and put forth solution ideas
  • Develop a design of experiments (DOE) to determine the expected benefits of a solution
  • Revise process maps and plans according to the data collected in the previous stage
  • Outline a test solution and plan
  • Implement Kaizen events to improve the process
  • Inform all stakeholders about the solution

The use of improvement management software is helpful at this stage. This helps to move the process seamlessly, achieve cross-functional collaboration and makes it easier for the management and executives to follow the progress of a given DMAIC project.

5. Control

After changes are in place and are successfully addressing the problems to improve your operations, it’s time to bring the process under control to ensure its long-term effectiveness.

This is where you:

  • Identify and document the new work standard
  • Develop a quality control plan which ensures the entire team is working with the same techniques and metrics 
  • Confirm reduction in failures due to the targeted cause
  • Use statistical process control (SPC) to monitor process execution and identify any issues that arise
  • Determine additional improvements, if needed, to meet process objectives
  • Streamline process improvements using the “Five S’s” of Lean
  • Integrate, document, and communicate the lessons learned

After the Control phase, you can quantify the complete impact of process changes in terms of cost reduction, efficiency, quality improvement, productivity increase, and customer satisfaction. 

This phase continues until new opportunities for improvements arise, and then, the DMAIC cycle runs from start all over again. Starting a DMAIC process involves time, effort, and discipline, but once your team gets the hang of it, they will become comfortable with the approach.

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Benefits of DMAIC: Why It’s Needed

When your organization is trying to improve a particular process, such as decreasing the number of defects or increasing overall quality, it’s important to have a clear path for reaching your goals. The main benefit of the DMAIC process is its simple but highly structured approach. Without this kind of structure, organizations will have a difficult time tracking what works (and why) or eliminating process changes that don’t work. And without implementing effective controls, even the best process changes won’t be properly adhered to.

Since this approach is so structured and requires detailed documentation, it allows businesses to hone their approach to problem-solving and increase productivity continually. Data collected through the process can be used for other projects within the same organization, providing more accurate baselines along the way.

DMAIC vs. DMADV

DMAIC is similar to the DMADV methodology, which is another core tenant of Six Sigma. The key difference is that while DMAIC is intended for incremental improvements to existing processes, DMADV is used when the existing process needs to be completely redesigned. 

The letters DMADV stand for:

  • D: Define
  • M: Measure
  • A: Analyze
  • D: Design
  • V: Verify

As you can see, the first three letters of the acronyms are the same. So it’s the design and verifies phases of DMADV that differ from DMAIC. In the third phase, teams design and implement the new processes required for the redesign, and then the fourth phase involves verification of whether the desired results were achieved. Therefore, DMADV is more appropriate for addressing problematic processes or products.

Test your understanding of siz sigma and the DMAIC methodology with the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Exam Practice Test. Try answering now!

Master the DMAIC Process with the Lean Six Sigma Certification Training

The DMAIC process, a key fundamental of the six sigma methodology, is designed to create efficiencies and improve productivity. By achieving the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification, professionals will not only master DMAIC but also how to apply these principles to real-world situations. Simplilearn’s Online Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification course will help you pass the certification exam and get you career-ready in the latest six sigma methods all from the comfort of your own home. 

About the Author

Steve TannerSteve Tanner

Steve has worked as a reporter, editor, researcher, and web content writer for more than 20 years, covering law, business, technology, and finance. His career spans journalism, online content, and marketing. A lifelong learner, Steve enjoys reading and honing his skills as a cook and homebrewer.

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