Light Bulb Moment

DMAIC powers new perspective

by Scott Force

Newly certified Six Sigma Black Belts often struggle with understanding how the various quality tools work together. It took me a few projects before I began to see linkage. As I teach and mentor new Belts, I use an analogy that hits close to home.

In 2001, my family and I moved to a new house. Before moving day, we conducted a final walkthrough with the contractor. I remember pointing out areas on the walls that needed a touch up with paint, the spackling smoothed out and other minor cosmetic improvements. It wasn’t until months later, while wrestling with our kids on the living room floor, that something caught my eye. I noticed little areas that weren’t painted that could not be seen while standing upright. Lying on the floor provided me with a new perspective.

Several months later while on my ladder replacing a light bulb, I found more areas that were missing paint. If it wasn’t for the new point of view, I never would have noticed these minor defects. In lean Six Sigma (LSS) projects, the define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) approach helps a team view a process or problem from many different perspectives.

DMAIC is a disciplined and systematic approach to drive process improvement. While DMAIC can be used on its own, it also helps guide LSS projects. The method forces the team to view a process from many different angles and to turn to a variety of tools to solve a problem. Issues, concerns, root causes and solutions are uncovered more quickly and easily.

Belts are taught to always map the process being improved in the early stages of the project. After the process map is complete, the Belt uses tools in his or her tool kit to evaluate the process from various perspectives and determine what activities are value added and nonvalue added.

Leading the way

As shown in Figure 1, the process map leads to the use of other tools that help break the process down. For example, failure mode and effects analysis can help uncover process steps that are error prone and pose greater risk to the customer. Key inputs to the process map can be analyzed using measurement systems analysis (MSA) to determine whether there are issues with data quality.

Figure 1

After MSA, the team can conduct a process capability analysis to determine how well the key process variables are meeting customer requirements. A cause and effect matrix narrows the key inputs listed on the process map and separates the trivial many from the vital few. Process control plans document the controls in place in the current state and pinpoint where critical process controls are needed.

It is important for LSS practitioners to consider the DMAIC roadmap and to maximize quality tools along the improvement journey. By adhering to this disciplined approach, there is a higher probability that the team will reach its goals and achieve continuous improvement. Like a doctor diagnosing an ailment or a carpenter building a home, you must use the tools at your disposal to uncover variables preventing the process from running at its best.

Scott Force has more than 22 years of quality improvement experience in the healthcare, automotive and power equipment industries. He earned a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Miami University in Oxford, OH. A senior member of ASQ, Force is an ASQ-certified quality engineer and a Sigma Breakthrough Technologies-trained Master Black Belt.

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