As part of my business improvement series, I last discussed how we gather data during the Measure phase of the DMAIC methodology. During this phase, we established what needs to be measured in our project. From there, we understood that the Analyze phase is the most crucial of all the phases, as later actions will be based on the data established here.
The DMAIC methodology is a time-proven tool used in Lean Six Sigma. DMAIC stands for:
This month, we are going to discuss the Improve phase of the DMAIC methodology.
Improve – Let’s solve some problems!
Now that we have progressed through the first stages of the DMAIC process, we have arrived at the point where the rubber meets the road! During the Improve phase, we are going to find some solutions to our process issues, based upon strong data and our deep dive exploration completed so far. We will brainstorm potential solutions, prioritize them based on customer requirements, make a selection, and test to see if the solution resolves the problem.
A variety of techniques are used to brainstorm potential solutions to counter the root cause(s) identified in Analyze. Process issues can be unique and troublesome. During this phase, strongly encourage team members to challenge rules and assumptions, ban excuses, and think outside the box. It is crucial that ideas not be judged nor eliminated. Even the most outlandish idea should be considered. Sometimes ideas that couldn’t possibly be implemented as first suggested can lead to a related idea that is an ideal solution. Step outside your comfort zone!
The next step is to establish criteria for evaluating the proposed improvements in an objective manner. Criteria typically include a timeline for implementation, financial cost, the extent to which root causes are likely to be countered, and the overall ease of implementation. You should also consider other factors such as the amount of buy-in that already exists for each possible change. The goal is to determine the appropriate solutions to implement using objective means, rather than making a decision based on assumptions or preferences. There are a variety of tools which can be utilized in this phase. Here is a list of the most common:
Improve Phase Tools
Mistake Proofing (Poke Yoke)
Design of Experiments (DoE)
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
When implementing improvements, one area that is often overlooked is the impact of change on the people that are involved in and affected by the process. Keep in mind basic change management procedures to ensure a smooth process. Communication and clarity is the key to success. As the implementation roles out, the team should be monitoring the progress and be ready to act to any issues that arise. Data should be reviewed periodically to ensure that appropriate data collection procedures are being followed.