To manage continuous improvement projects in a structured way requires a model such as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control). DMAIC will give you and your team a road map for creating, implementing and sustaining your solution. This article will give you a high-level overview of what each part of DMAIC is and the tools that are associated with that particular stage.
In this stage, you and your team along with your sponsors will agree what your actual improvement project is and what it should achieve. You’ll need to review what your customers are saying and measure their needs. You’ll also define the scope and boundaries of the project. Defining the boundaries is important because if the project is too big you’ll find it difficult to complete it on time. However, if it’s too small the project may be too insignificant to have an impact or gain buy-in. To help you understand your project boundaries and to help identify your measures you can use a high-level process map called a SIPOC (Suppliers, Input, Process, Output, Customers).
From the outset, you’ll need to ensure that you have the right team and that you’re all on the same page. To help you with this you should use a project charter, which you’ll update throughout your project.
In this stage, you will use a variety of tools to understand the current state of the process. You’ll need to determine what needs to be measured, create a data collection plan, validate the measurement system and establish the current capability and performance of the process.
People can become very protective over data especially if their past experience has been one were management have used data to punish, push performance or justify redundancies. Therefore, it’s possible that you’ll face barriers when you ask people for data especially in the service industry. It’s important that people are engaged from the outset, so they know why they’re being asked for data and that the continuous improvement project or programme is supported by senior management.
In this stage, you analyse the process to identify the root causes of the problems, such as waste, delays, complaints and poor quality. It’s important that the team uses the data to form conclusions rather than opinion and personal experience. Tools that you’ll likely use will include: Cause and Effect diagram, 5 Whys, Affinity diagram, scatter plot diagram, “As-Is” process map, Non-Value Added Analysis, etc.
If you have people on your team who aren’t trained or experienced in continuous improvement then they’ll likely find the analysis tools unfamiliar. Running workshops or meetings to teach and explain the tools will help the team gain confidence and understanding.
In this stage, you and your team will develop potential solutions; select the best solution; develop and implement the pilot solution and execute the full-scale implementation of your improvement. Your improvement will eliminate or significantly reduce any defects, waste, costs or any other problems your process was producing. Tools you’ll use will include: Brainstorming, 5S, error proofing, To-Be process maps, etc.
Implementing a pilot and the improved process means changing the way people actually work. Usually, the improvement team is a representative of a larger group of workers within that process, so you’ll have more success if you involve this community during the development of the solution. This can involve asking them for their improvement suggestions and thoughts as well as including them in the pilot. This stops any surprises and unexpected ways of working which will cause them to revert back to the old way of working.
This stage involves ensuring that the new improved process is sustained until a better way to operate the process is found. To achieve this you’ll need to produce control charts to track the processes performance; document SOPs to ensure workers are operating it correctly; process control charts and handing over ownership of the process to the process owner.
Continuous improvement and the use of DMAIC shouldn’t be bureaucratic, so don’t use tools that you don’t need. Continuous improvement is about being able to see waste, and value and non-value added activities and being able to improve a process then sustain the improvement. It’s not about remembering all the terminology and Japanese words.