Six Sigma is a business management strategy that was initially developed by Motorola in the 1980s and is used by many Fortune 500 companies today. It is primarily used to identify and rectify errors in a manufacturing or business process.
The Six Sigma system uses a number of quality methods and tools that are used by Six Sigma trained professionals within the organization. The DMAIC problem-solving method can be used to help with any issue that arises, usually by professionals in the organization who have reached the "green belt" level.
The DMAIC Method
The DMAIC problem-solving method is a roadmap that can be used for any projects or quality improvements that need to be made. The term DMAIC stands for the five main steps in the process: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
- Define: It is important in Six Sigma to define the problem or project goals. The more specific the problem is defined, the greater the chance of obtaining measurements and then successfully completing the project or solving the problem. The definition should describe the issue accurately with numeric representation. For example, “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months." The definition of the problem or project should not be vague, such as, “quality has fallen.” As part of the definition stage, the scope of the project or issue should be defined, as well as the business processes involved.
- Measure: When the project or problem has been defined, decisions should then be made about additional measurements required to quantify the problem. For example, if the definition of the problem is “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months,” then additional measurements might need to be looked at. This includes what finished goods are being damaged, when they are being damaged, and the level of damage.
- Analyze: Once the measuring stage has defined the additional measurements, the data is then collected and analyzed. At this point, it is possible to determine whether the problem is valid or whether it is a random event that does not have a specific cause that can be corrected. The data that has been collected can be used as a base level to compare against measurements after the project has been completed to ascertain the success of the project.
- Improve: After measurements have been taken and analyzed, possible solutions can then be developed. Test data can be created and pilot studies launched to find which of the solutions offers the best improvements to the issue. The team should also look at the results to ensure that there are no unanticipated consequences to the selected solution. When the most appropriate solution is selected, then the team can develop an implementation plan and a timeline for the completion of the project.
- Control: After the implementation of the solution or project, a number of controls must be put in place so that measurements can be taken to confirm that the solution is still valid and to prevent a recurrence. The control measurements can be scheduled for specific dates, e.g., monthly, daily, and yearly. The solution should also be well documented and any other related process documentation updated.
The DMAIC problem-solving method can produce significant improvements for an organization that is using the Six Sigma methodology and tools. The method offers a five-step plan that gives organizations a roadmap to follow so that issues can be resolved using a structured methodology.