Putting the Rs into DMAIC

POSTED: Mar. 03, 2017

Written by Kent State Facilitators John Novak and John Potkalitsky

Continual Improvement Roadmaps

In the previous article, “Lean or Six Sigma: Which One?”, we talked about selecting a Roadmap. We mentioned DMAIC and PDCA as being two popular roadmaps used in the Lean Six Sigma communities. Remember, the Roadmap articulates the process we are going to follow to improve processes. It is vitally important that we establish a continual improvement process to ensure that improvement efforts are directed at the root causes and not just at the symptoms of the problems.

Most good methodologies are based on the Scientific Method, which was conceived in the early 17th century. In Figure 1, we compare three continual improvement roadmaps to the Scientific Method: DMAIC, PDCA and 8D.

Roadmap Comparisons to the Scientific Method









DMAIC comes to us from the Six Sigma community and PDCA comes out of the Lean community. 8D (Eight Disciplines) was developed by Ford Motor Company to solve problems. All three are valid roadmaps on which you can hang any of the tools for analyzing processes. When you have a problem identified by your customer, the 8D roadmap may be preferred because of Step #3, Containment. What are you going to do to stop the bleeding?


Let’s take a closer look at the DMAIC Roadmap. Each of the Phases in DMAIC are defined by the following:




In this phase, we define the problem or opportunity from the perspective of the customer and define the performance objectives for the process.


In this phase, we measure the gap between the current state of the process and the expectations of our customers by mapping and gathering information about the process as it exists today.


In this phase, we gather and analyze data about the current state of the process to determine the root causes of the issues preventing achievement of the performance objectives.


In this phase, we change the process through the implementation of countermeasures that eliminate the root causes and establish standard approaches for the process.


In this phase, we establish appropriate controls to monitor the process to prevent back sliding and maintain the improvements implemented.

The phases just described are completed by a project team, which was assembled to improve a specific process. The project team begins with Define and ends with Control. Two key questions arise:

  1. How did we get to Define?
  2. What happens after Control?
What Happens Before DMAIC

Before we define a project and a problem, we must take a step back and look at strategic areas of concern within the organization. In today’s highly competitive business environment, a Business Case needs to be made, which identifies weak strategic processes, so that limited resources can be deployed effectively. It has been our experience that the Strategic Plan is rarely communicated throughout the organization. This being the case, how can we expect projects to be defined that will have a strategic impact?

With a Business Case in hand, we can now select the process to improve, at which point we can start thinking about Defining a project.

Since a good continual improvement program involves selecting strategic processes to improve, we recommend adding a Recognize Phase prior to the Define Phase (see Figure 2). Whether you are doing these things or not, the addition of the Recognize Phase, codifies the process and makes it part of the continual improvement effort.

What Happens After DMAIC

Sustainability is the key once the project is completed and the project team disbands. The new and improved process must be turned over to the Process Owner and integrated into the day-to-day operation of the organization. The Project Team must make sure the Process Owner understands the details of the new process, especially if the Process Owner was not part of the team.

Key components of a Sustainability Plan include:

  • The current documentation must be made available at the point of use and revision control established. The Standard Work (the new best practice) for the process must now be standardized (everyone does it the same way) across the entire organization. Everyone must understand it, have access to it and adhere to it. We simply can’t tolerate outdated process documentation.
  • The process controls, implemented by the Project Team, must be understood and communicated to the employees who must respond to the visual signals. A “Stop to Fix the Problem” culture needs to be established.
  • A plan for communicating the process status to employees and management must be in place to ensure corrective actions are implemented if performance starts to degrade.
  • Existing employees were trained during the Improve and Control Phases. A training plan needs to be in place to properly train new employees. Too many times we forget this, compromising the integrity of the process.
  • The new process must be audited. The Process Owner must understand how to monitor the new Standard Work that has been implemented and respond to any variations.

Since all these activities must take place to integrate the new process into the day-to-day activities (after the Project Team is finished), we recommend adding a Realize Phase after the Control Phase (see Figure 2). The Realize Phase helps to make sure we do not skip this part, which is easy to do, because the project has been completed.

Expanded DMAIC Roadmap with Recognize and Realize Phases


Don’t assume that the best process for improvement will be selected without an evaluation methodology. We have seen so many continual improvement efforts fail to achieve the strategic objectives simply because they were working on insignificant processes.

Additionally, don’t assume that just because the Project Team completed the project, the new process will be sustainable and seamlessly integrated into the everyday business operations. We have seen too many instances where someone will ask, “Didn’t we fix that process six months ago?” The answer is, you probably did, but you failed to sustain the gains. A proper turnover of the new process to the Process Owner is key to realizing the expected benefits.

Our next article will go into detail about the engagement needed for an effective continual improvement program, in all phases of the R-DMAIC-R Roadmap, from the Leadership Group, all the way down through the employees working at the grass roots level in the organization.