If you want to make lasting changes, you need to know how to use the Improve Phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC Process. The DMAIC Improve Phase is when the rubber meets the road, so to speak. This step of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) process is where we make all of the changes necessary to achieve long-term success that sticks. In this article, you’ll learn more about this important DMAIC stage.
On this page:
- What is the Improve Phase?
- Importance of the Improve Phase
- How to Make Change That Lasts
- Tools in the Improve Phase
- Common Pitfalls of the Improve Phase
What is the Improve Phase?
The Improve Phase of the DMAIC methodology is concerned with identifying and executing solutions that will result in improved product or service quality. This could include process changes, new means of training or communication, or new technology. The goal is to make minor, incremental adjustments that will improve the overall quality of the product or service. Following the implementation of solutions, the procedure will be monitored to ensure that the expected improvements are achieved.
The best-practice tasks and activities that are usually performed during this step are:
- Formulation of adequate documentation of process standards, work process guidelines, process metrics, and implementation measurement systems
- Planning Pilots and measuring successes and failures
- Risk reduction
- Preparation for hand-off to process owner
- Calculation benefits
Importance of the Improve Phase
This DMAIC tollgate is important because Six Sigma practitioners can increase the quality of the product or service noticeably during this stage. This is where you and your team review all the data collected in the Measure and Analyze phases and use it to make improvements that last.
At the end of this stage, your team will have implemented new processes that make the company more efficient. This step may result in customer satisfaction, productivity gains, and financial savings. Furthermore, making minor adjustments at this stage reduces the possibility of disruptions to the entire procedure and allows for a more managed and progressive adoption of improvements.
How to Make Change That Lasts
It’s important to remember that this Six Sigma DMAIC stage is where true change begins. The goal of this phase is to implement the solutions that were found in the Measure and Analyze phases so that they can be sustained. If a solution is not implemented properly, it won’t stick—and if it doesn’t stick, then all the hard work you put into finding it will have been for nothing.
This is why you must ensure you’re following through on your solutions. At this point in DMAIC, it’s crucial not only to have a clear understanding of what needs improving and how you’ll measure it—but also how you’ll implement those improvements. You need to make sure you have an action plan for implementing these solutions and that you’ve determined who will be responsible for each aspect of implementing them.
There are a plethora of ways to make changes that last. For example, a viable option is to center efforts on long-term improvements to processes that you can monitor less often. Alternatively, you could employ new technology that streamlines operations and boost productivity. Also, altering the methods used to train and interact with workers can potentially have long-term benefits for a company.
Whatever the path you choose may be, thorough planning and consideration are essential for its successful implementation and subsequent improvement of product or service quality.
Tools in the Improve Phase
As part of this stage, you can choose from a variety of methods best suited to the circumstances at hand. Six Sigma practitioners frequently use methods like process mapping, root-cause analysis, and experimentation design.
You can use these tools to locate problem spots, create potential fixes, and put them to the test. Moreover, pilots or small-scale trials can be helpful in this phase to test out potential solutions before they are deployed on a broader scale. In addition, methods like statistical analysis and quality management instruments can be used to monitor the development of the improvements and verify their efficacy, ensuring they work as intended.
Here’s a broader list of DMAIC Improve Phase tools:
- Brainstorming of solutions
- Use of other creative tools, such as Nominal Group Technique (NGT)
- Maturing Process Map from Current State to Future State
- Solution Priority Matrix
- “PICK” Charts (Possible, Implement, Challenge, Kill) (Also known as a two-by-two decision matrix)
- Pilot of chosen Solution(s)
- Performance Metric validation and tracking
- RACI charts (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed)
- Implementation Plans (to include the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How”
- Training plans for Future State (improved) process
- Risk Management updates
- Buy-in and Change Management work for new process
- Stakeholder engagement
- Preparing for Control Phase and hand-off to Process Owner
- Communication Plans for the change to new process
- “5 S”
- Poka Yoke (Mistake and Error Proofing of new process)
- Visual Management and Control Techniques
- Implement Pull Systems and Batch Control
- Implement FLOW
Common Pitfalls of the Improve Phase
It’s easy to slip into the trap of rushing through this step without giving adequate thought to how you will implement the changes. This can cause delays in the procedure as a whole and lower the quality of the final output. There’s also the fact that introducing too many modifications all at once might be confusing and stressful for employees.
Before widespread implementation, you should adequately test solutions and prioritize the most critical problems. Finally, you should monitor the procedure after making adjustments to confirm that the intended improvements have been made.
Some other common pitfalls to watch for during this stage are:
– Choosing a solution that is sub-optimal over the optimal
– Poor Change Management
– Poor application of Solution Prioritization
– Poor data and metrics analysis and application
– Underestimating the impact of the changes
– Making changes based on an incorrect Critical Root Cause
– Poorly documented work standards, work instructions, and integration into the Control Planning
The Improve Phase of DMAIC is the culmination of all of your baseline analysis and identification of opportunities for improvement. The idea behind this stage of the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology is to set your team up for success by tackling only the most important changes and making sure you have a strong understanding of the root cause of your problem.
Once that’s accomplished, the team can move forward in implementing the best solution while monitoring their progress and collecting data to see how things are working. By following these steps, you can avoid churning out a change that isn’t really making a difference, which can help you and your team fix problems for good.