Using the DMAIC Process for Problem-Solving

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Jul 7, 2022
Updated on
Jul 7, 2022
Table of Content

Most people think of the DMAIC process as a waterfall methodology. 

They couldn’t be more wrong. DMAIC can be used in an Agile team and works well when done correctly. Let's say you are a Product Owner who wants to use the DMAIC process in your agile team. The first step is understanding DMAIC and how it can help you. 

DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. It is a lean Six Sigma methodology that helps businesses improve their processes. The goal of DMAIC is to improve quality and reduce waste. 

This article will shed some light on how you can use the DMAIC process in an Agile team and what benefits it can bring.

What is the DMAIC process?

By definition, the DMAIC process is a data-driven approach to problem-solving. It is used to improve existing processes or to develop new ones. The goal of DMAIC is to increase quality and reduce waste. 

The DMAIC process has five steps: 

  1. Define: In this step, you will define the problem you want to solve and set the goals for your project. You will also identify the stakeholders who will be involved in the project.
  2. Measure: You will then collect data about your current processes. This data will help you understand how the process works and identify areas that need improvement.
  3. Analyze: Afterwards, you will analyze the data you collected in the previous step. This will help you identify the root cause of the problem.
  4. Improve: In this step, you will develop and implement solutions to improve the process. 
  5. Control: Finally, you will establish controls to ensure that the improvements are sustainable. You will also monitor the process to ensure it continues to operate effectively.

The DMAIC model is iterative, meaning you can go back to any previous steps at any time. 

Why is the DMAIC process useful in decision-making?

The DMAIC process is a useful tool for decision-making because it helps you systematically improve your processes. It also helps you to identify and solve problems quickly. 

For example, suppose the team is struggling to meet its Sprint goals. In that case, Agile teams can use DMAIC to identify the root cause of the problem and develop solutions to improve their productivity

Here are some of its benefits:

  • The DMAIC process is data-driven, so it relies on facts and evidence to make decisions. This makes it an objective and unbiased approach to decision-making. 
  • The DMAIC process is iterative, which means that you can go back to any of the previous steps at any time. This makes it a flexible approach that you can adapt to changing circumstances. 
  • The DMAIC process is designed to help you solve problems quickly. It is a fast and efficient way to identify and implement solutions. 

How to use the DMAIC process?

Let's look at how each phase of the DMAIC process can be applied in an Agile team setting. 

1. Define

The first step is to define the problem you are trying to solve. This is important because it will help you focus your efforts on the right things. This stage has two steps: 1) the project selection and scope, and 2) the definition of the defect. 

You need to decide which project you want to work on and what its scope will be. This is important because you don't want to bite off more than you can chew. Here are the things that you don't want to skip when selecting a project and scope:

  • Find the organizational values that define it
  • Find opportunities
  • Investigate the possibilities in the list
  • Identify the project’s scope and objectives
  • Set the projects' priorities

While defining the defect can be self-explanatory, it's often misunderstood. A defect is not just a bug – it's anything that causes the process to deviate from the target. 

To find the defects, you must first understand the target. This can be anything from customer satisfaction to cycle time. Once you know what the target is, you can start looking for defects. 

There are two ways to find defects: 

1. Look at the data: This is probably the most common way to find defects. You can use DMAIC tools like cause-and-effect diagrams to help you identify potential causes of defects. 

2. Look at the process: This is less common, but it's still a valid way to find defects. You can use process mapping to help you understand how the process works and identify potential areas for improvement. 

2. Measure

The second step is to measure the current state of the process. This is important because it will help you understand where the process is today and where it needs to be. This stage has three steps: 

1. Collect data: The first step is to collect data about the process. This data can be collected in many different ways, but the most common way is to use process mapping. 

2. Analyze data: The next step is to analyze your collected data. This analysis will help you understand the current state of the process and identify opportunities for improvement. 

3. Set a target: The last step in this phase is to set a target for the process, such as customer satisfaction. Afterward, you can start working on improving the process. 

3. Analyze

You can use many tools for analysis, but the most common ones are cause-and-effect and fishbone diagrams

GoRetro's 5 Whys template for problem solving is an excellent tool for this stage. It provides in-depth guidance on how to use the 5 Whys technique to find the root cause of a problem. 

Remember that term, "root cause." This is what you're looking for when analyzing complex problems and processes. The root cause is the underlying reason why a problem exists. It's often not obvious, and it can take some time to locate.

4. Improve

The fourth step is to improve the process. This is where you'll make changes to your processes to address the problems that you've found. There are many ways to improve, but the most common one is to use process mapping. This tool helps you understand how a process works and identify potential areas for improvement. 

5. Control

The fifth and final step is to control the process. This is where you'll put in place controls to ensure that your improvements are sustainable.

Although it is the last stage, this is where most product owners fail. Why? Because they think that once the improvements are made, they're done. That's hardly the case. 

You must ensure that the process stays in their new, improved state. This is often done by creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) and a control plan. 

If you fail to control the process, it will eventually revert to its old state, and your efforts will be wasted.

DMAIC Examples

DMAIC can be used to solve a variety of problems in Agile development. For example, suppose you are working on a project that is behind schedule. You can use DMAIC to help you figure out why the project is behind schedule and what you can do to get it back on track.

First, you would need to define the problem – in this case, the project is behind schedule. Next, you would need to measure how far behind schedule the project is and what factors are contributing to the delay. You can measure the project's progress against its original schedule, as well as the progress of similar projects.

Once you have collected data on the problem, you can begin to analyze it to look for trends and root causes. In this case, you might find that the project is behind schedule because there are not enough people working on it. Alternatively, you might find the project is behind schedule because the deadlines are too tight.

After you have analyzed the data and identified root causes, you can begin to develop solutions. Possible solutions, in this case, could include hiring more people to work on the project, or extending the deadline. Once you have developed potential solutions, you need to test them to see if they actually work.

In our example, we would need to monitor the project's progress and compare it to its original schedule. If we found that the project was still behind schedule after implementing our solution, we would need to go back and try another one.

Finally, once you have implemented a solution and verified that it works, you need to document it so that others can learn from your experience. This documentation should include what went wrong, what was done to fix it, and how well the fix worked.

DMAIC vs. DMADV

The DMAIC process is often confused with DMADV. Both are Six Sigma processes, but they are used for different purposes. 

DMAIC is used when you have a process that isn't working as well as it should, and you need to find a way to improve it. 

Meanwhile, DMADV is used to design a new process from scratch. 

If you're unsure which one you need, ask yourself this question: Do I need to improve an existing process (DMAIC) or create a new one (DMADV)? 

DMAIC vs. PCA Cycle

The DMAIC process is also sometimes confused with the PCA cycle. PCA stands for problem clarification, data collection, analysis, and action.

While DMAIC is very similar to the PCA cycle, it has a few key differences:

  1. DMAIC is more structured, while the PCA cycle is more flexible and allows for more creativity and innovation.
  2. DMAIC is more focused on solving specific problems. Meanwhile, the PCA cycle is more general and can be used to solve different problems.
  3. DMAIC is more results-oriented, while the PCA cycle is more process-oriented.
  4. The DMAIC process has five phases, while the PCA cycle has four.

Where to find useful DMAIC resources?

There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you learn more about the DMAIC process, but our go-to is GoLeanSixSigma.com. It offers a wealth of resources, tools, templates, and training to help you improve your problem-solving skills.

Final Thoughts

DMAIC is a powerful problem-solving tool that teams can use to improve any process. It's a structured approach that helps you focus on the root cause of the problem and provides a framework for finding and implementing a solution. 

If you want to improve your problem-solving skills, we highly recommend checking out GoLeanSixSigma.com. They offer a wealth of resources to help you master the DMAIC process. 

And if you're looking for a tool to help you track and manage your DMAIC projects, then look no further than GoRetro. GoRetro is a flexible and easy-to-use tool that you can apply to your retrospectives. This can be very useful for identifying issues early on and help you track your progress over time – a perfect tool to complement your DMAIC processes.

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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