John, the Production Manager of a food manufacturing plant is having a good day.  At least until the Quality Manager bursts into his office:  “John, I can’t believe that your operators can’t put a seal on a jar.”

John is surprised and replies, “What are you talking about, Steve?  We haven’t had to put product on hold for seals for months.  I told the team that they better be careful when adjusting the sealer during the change-overs after the last issue.”

Steve isn’t patient with John, “Well, where have you been?  Everything you made last night is on hold.  First shift found it when they did their first quality check this morning.”

John replies, “Just when I thought I could get some work done” and wonders what went wrong this time…..

John and his team have been down this road before.  The team has a major quality failure and goes into crisis mode.  Someone has a great idea on how to solve the issue and it is implemented right away.  The trouble is that the solutions are often superficial.  Other times it only addressed one issue when in fact there are several root causes.  In any case, the idea really is not adequate.  Everyone pays extra attention at first and they don’t have any repeat issues thanks to everyone’s extra diligence.  People forget in time though and start to focus on more pressing matters.   Before you know it, the team has another major quality failure.

“Hey, Steve.  Why don’t we do a DMAIC to solve this seal issue once and for all?”

John has learned from the school of hard knocks that superficial answers don’t solve complex issues. He knows that it takes time and resources to do a DMAIC properly but is starting to see the value of such an investment.

So what is a DMAIC?  DMAIC is part of a Continuous Improvement process known as Six Sigma.  Bill Smith, a Naval Academy graduate, formulated Six Sigma at Motorola. Motorola won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award just two years after implementing the new Six Sigma process.  Smith was inspired by the work of Dr. Edwards Deming and other pioneers of the Quality movement.  Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle clearly influenced the DMAIC process.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Deming circle, also known as...

Image via Wikipedia

The DMAIC process consists of the following steps:

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Improve
  5. Control

The PDCA and DMAIC cycles are very similar in practice.  The Define, Measure, and Analyze steps of the DMAIC process fit nicely into the Planning step of the Deming Circle. The DMAIC Improve step is virtually the same as Do and Check of the PDCA.  The Control step of the DMAIC overlaps with both the Check and Act steps.  The DMAIC includes doing a risk assessment to prevent backsliding at this point.

There are several benefits to the DMAIC process:

  1. DMAIC’s can solve complex issues. It is very difficult to solve complex issues with simple problem solving tools.  It is unlikely that you would solve each root cause of as such an issue without a process like PDCA or DMAIC.
  2. The DMAIC process is a structured and proven process. Would you rather use a process with documented results or go with your gut feeling?
  3. The structure is good for high risk issues. Without structured implementation, you are likely to have the issue return when an operator decides to do it their way or a new operator doesn’t get the word on the new procedure.
  4. The process will find the root causes and effective countermeasures when done properly.  The process uses Pareto Diagrams, Cause & Effect Analysis, 5 Why Root Cause Analysis and other proven tools to identify the root causes.
  5. The DMAIC process is designed for sustainable results and makes improvements part of how we do our work.  The DMAIC process calls for written documentation of the standardized improvements.  The process also calls for a risk assessment to determine what could prevent the improvements from being sustainable.  Armed with that information, the team develops countermeasures to ensure the long-term success of the process.

John and his team are ready to tackle a DMAIC to solve their issue with improper seals. Is the DMAIC process what you need to solve issues in your process?  If you are willing to invest the time required to really solve your complex and high risk issues, then the answer is yes.

Go to So What is a DMAIC Anyway? to learn more.

Christian Paulsen, an Executive Consultant with a passion for Continuous Improvement, authored this blog post.  Christian’s experience includes the use of Lean principles and tools in Food and Beverage manufacturing plants. Prior to consulting, Christian served as an officer within the US Navy, followed by key roles within Frito-Lay, Unilever (Lipton), and Nestle USA as well as smaller private manufacturers.

You can read Christian’s blog at http://christianpaulsen62.wordpress.com/ or connect on LinkedIn.