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Should This Be a Six Sigma DMAIC Project?

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 11/1/2013

What makes for a good Six Sigma process improvement project? Should all business problems be addressed using the DMAIC methodology? Here are some tips to help you make the right decision about whether to charter a DMAIC project to address a specific problem in your business processes and results.

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    A Philosophy and a Methodology

    Six Sigma is both a philosophy and a methodology that organizations put into practice in order to improve efficiency and results. While Six Sigma is not just about doing projects, conducting DMAIC projects is a sizable component of the methodology. Most organizations have many processes that require substantial improvement, and typically individuals serving in Black Belt and Green Belt roles are required to successfully complete a minimum number of DMAIC projects to receive certification or to be deemed as having fulfilled their role. Yet business leaders need to resist the temptation to make every project a DMAIC project.

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    When You Don't Need DMAIC

    Photo by Carlos Chavez via stock.xchng Problems that have obvious root causes and known solutions rarely require DMAIC; the solutions should just be implemented. If the goal is "Implement a new call monitoring system," then DMAIC is not appropriate. An appropriate goal for a DMAIC project would be: "Find out why our technical support resolution rate is so low and improve it." It may be that the solution would somehow involve implementing or enhancing call monitoring, but it is just as conceivable that the solution would be completely unrelated to monitoring and would instead require improvements to call routing.

    DMAIC is not intended as a replacement for effective leadership and change management. If leaders are having trouble obtaining buy-in from their employees or supervisors regarding improvements that are needed, the answer is not to charter a DMAIC project. If this is happening, it is a sign that the proper framework and culture for Six Sigma have not been fully established. So not only is DMAIC not necessary when the solution is already known, but a DMAIC project is unlikely to go smoothly in the absence of a business process management system and sufficient leadership support.

    The key criteria for chartering a DMAIC project include:

    • An existing process requires improvement to meet business and customer specifications.
    • The root causes of performance problems are not known and have not been confirmed with data.
    • The solution for decreasing defects and improving performance is not known.
    • Data on process performance is already available or an be obtained.
    • The process is tied directly to key business results and metrics.
    • Resolving the problem and improving performance has been deemed a high priority by business leaders.
    • The customers of the process output can be identified and consulted.
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    When DMAIC Is the Answer

    If leaders have tried repeatedly to understand and solve a problem in the past with little success, that problem is an excellent candidate for a DMAIC project. Why? Because the failure to solve the problem with other techniques indicates that either the problem wasn't fully understood, the root cause wasn't truly identified, or the solutions believed to counter the root cause could not actually do so. In these situations DMAIC provides exactly the systematic data-driven methodology required to truly create improvements.