DMAIC: The Six Sigma Formula to Business Process Perfection

What is DMAIC?

DMAIC is one of the process improvement methodologies in Six Sigma and the acronym stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. It is a data-driven improvement cycle aims at improving, stabilizing, and controlling the business processes.

Let's understand Six Sigma before proceeding ahead with DMAIC.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is an organizational approach to performance excellence. It has been labeled as a metric, methodology, a management, and a philosophy. It can be applied to any process to establish a management system for identifying errors and eliminating them.

In Six Sigma, the purpose of process improvement is to increase performance and decrease performance variation, which leads to

  • Defect reduction,

  • Reduce cycle time

  • Profit betterment,

  • Employee optimism,

  • Quality of the product and

  • Business excellence.

Two Six Sigma Methods

Six Sigma is quite different then other process improvement methodologies as 'IT DEMANDS RESULTS'. The two methodologies of Six Sigma are:-


DMAIC - Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. This controlled change management process focuses on improving the existing process so as to stabilize and control the business process.


DMADV - Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Verify. It concentrates on the development of entirely new process, product or service. When expected output is not yielded from the existing processes, even after applying the necessary process improvement measures, then it is essential to define a new process.


When to use DMAIC?

It is executed by a project team when they are looking for the betterment of an existing process. Due to its data-driven and customer focused approach, this method is fairly successful, as it ensures none of the critical process improvement steps are skipped.

Let's discuss each phase of DMAIC in detail.



The primary focus of the define phase is to ensure that the team is centering on the right requirement. This phase seeks answer to the question -

"What is Important?" - meant what is important for the business

The objective is to find and validate the opportunity for improvement, develop business process, define Critical Customer Requirements, and prepare an effective project team. The three steps in this Define phase are:-

  • Generate Project Ideas

  • Select Project

  • Conclude Project Charter and High level process map


a. How to generate Project Ideas?

Project Ideas can be generated from

  • Voice of Customer (VOC) - Pain areas identified based on the customer voice/feedback

  • Voice of Business (VOB) - Pain areas identified based on the business problems

  • Cost of poor Quality (COQ) - Pain areas identified based on the process defects.

We can use Surveys, Scorecards, Customer Dashboards, Internal/External Audits, Bench-marking data, etc., to collect VOC, VOB and COQs.

The generated project ideas should be translated into Critical Customer Requirement (CCR). A CCR is a specific characteristic of a product/service which is desired by or important to customer. Once CCRs are identified, translate them to Critical To Quality (CTQ) measures. CTQ is a measure on the output of the process.


If VOB is 'The delivery is delayed', the CCR would be 'The delivery should be within scheduled time' and the CTQ would be 'Plan to deliver product on time'.


b. How to Select the Project?

The CTQ will further be drilled down to several causes using which we can list down the potential problems/projects of the organization. Out of them, the management will select a project that should:-

  • Impact a business key goal

  • Require analysis to uncover the root cause of a problem

  • Address the source of customer pain or dissatisfaction point

  • Produce quantifiable results

  • Be able to achieve the results in the reasonable timeframe


c. Project Charter and High level process map

Project charter

Once the project is selected by the project management, the project charter is used to establish a clear understanding of the project amongst the team, project leader, SME, sponsor, and stakeholder. It is a written agreement between management and the team about the expectations. It should include opportunity statement, business case, goal statement, project scope, team members and project plan. It helps to keep the team focused and aligned on the organizational priorities.

Process Map

Process Maps are the graphical representation of a process flow identifying the steps of the process, the inputs and the outputs of the process, and opportunities for improvement. For every process, it is very useful to start with high level process map of five to ten steps representing the sub-processes.

SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers) is one of the high level process maps which is commonly used.

  • Suppliers: The ones who provide inputs

  • Inputs: Data required to execute the process

  • Process Boundary: Identified by the hand-off at the input (the start point of the process) and the output (the end point of the process)

  • Outputs: Output of a process that creates a product or service that meets the customer need

  • Customers: Users of the output


At the end of the Define phase, the problem statement and the scope of the project are defined and put down in writing.



The main focus of the measure is to answer the question, 'How are we doing?'.

This phase is about collecting as much data as possible to help identify the current processes that are related to the problem. It is about measuring the current process using concrete, reliable data. Neither finding a solution to the problem nor finding the cause of the problem.

The three steps in the Measure phase are:-

  • Develop measures

  • Validate the measurement system

  • Measure current performance and gap


a. Develop Measures

This step is to ensure if the team has identified the specific input, process, and output measures needing to be collected for both effectiveness and efficiency.


b. Validate the measurement system

One of the important steps in the measure phase is conducting a Measurement System Analysis (MSA).

MSA is carried out to verify if the measurement system is producing valid data and before the team make any data based decisions.  MSA is a collection of methods that can be used to to assess the ability to collect trustworthy, reliable data - the

kind of data to be analyzed. A good MSA should possess certain properties:-

  • Bias or Accuracy

It should generate the data that is close to the actual property being measured, that is accuracy. The difference between the average measured value and a reference value is referred to as Bias.

  • Repeatability

If the MSA is applied repeatedly to the same object, the measurements produced should be close to one another which is repeatability.

  • Linearity

It should be able to produce accurate and consistent results over the entire range of concerns, which is linearity

  • Reproducibility

It should produce the same results when used by a properly trained individual, which is called reproducibility.

  • Stability

It should produce the same results in the future as it did in the past, which is called stability.


c. Measure current performance and gap

Once Measurement system reliability has been established, the team must develops a data collection plan. It is a plan that defines the precise data that will be collected, the amount of data that will be collected, a description of the logistical issues - who, where, when data will be collected - and what will be done with data collected.

Data collection can be difficult. But the data collected should be able to baseline the performance. Define the purpose to provide a single, agreed upon meaning for the project. A clear concise definition will ensure reliable data collection and reduction in measurement errors.

Once the data is collected, it should answer the question 'How are we doing?' This is the final step in the Measure Phase. The process baseline provides a quantifiable measure of the process performance. For any process improvement effort process baselines are critical, as they provide the reference point for declaration of benefits achieved.

The gap between the current performance and the customer (or project) requirements can be measured by the commonly used MSA methods:-

  • Logical Validation

  • Attribute Agreement Analysis (Fleiss Kappa Statistic)

  • Attribute Agreement Analysis (Kendall's coefficient)

  • Resolution, Accuracy and Gage R&R


At the end of the Measure phase, a detailed process map should be in place that clearly shows how the process is currently performed, along with data and charts that explain how well the process meets customer requirements.



In the analyze phase, the question to be answered is 'What is wrong?'. In this phase, the team determines the root cause of the problems of the process. In the define and measure phase, we have identified the problems that is impacting the process.  Now, let us find the root cause of these problems and get it validated.

We can use certain tools and techniques to find the causes.

  • Brainstorming

It is a group discussion that generates a large volume of creative, new, and not necessarily new ideas by all the participants. It is used at the initial steps to identify the potential factors that affect the output. It is beneficial because it helps preventing the scope being narrowed and the problem being discussed from all possible directions. These sessions can be organized to find the cause of the problem and suggest palliatives.

  • Five Why's Analysis

It is a traditional and simple tool that can be completed without statistical analysis. By repeatedly asking the 'why' question five times, it can peel away the layers of the symptoms that can lead to the actual root cause of the problem.

  • Affinity Diagram

If the ideas generated in brainstorming session are more than 15, it is hard to clarify, combine them and make a decision. However, it becomes even difficult to establish a relationship between them. Here comes the affinity diagram, where we can organize ideas under separate headers. List them according to their affinities makes it easier to assign deliverables.

  • Cause-and-effect Analysis

This method is also known as fishbone or Ishikawaa diagram. It is used to visualize the potential root-causes of an outcome. Further statistical analysis is needed to determine which factors contribute the most to creating the effect.

  • Cause-and-Effect Matrix

The relationship between Key Input Process Variables (KIPV) and Key Output Process Variables (KOPV) are ranked and helps to identify the potential cause of the problem.

  • Process Mapping

The process will be mapped in the form of a flowchart and it allows people to easily understand where waste exists in the process and where the process has been poorly defined.

Further, the process maps can be analyzed by doing Value Add/Non-Value Add analysis and Failure Modes and Effects Analysis, which helps in identifying the waste in the process map.


The outcome of the Analyze phase is to ensure if the team has examined the process and identified potential bottlenecks, disconnects, and redundancies that could contribute to the problem statement. If any new risk is seen, it should be added to risk mitigation plan and a mitigation strategy should be put in place.



In the improve phase, the team will answer the question, 'What needs to be done to overcome this problem?'

From the previous phases, the team has validated the causes of the problems and is now ready to identify the list of solutions for consideration. Once the team has decided on a solution to present to the management, the team should also consider the cost/benefit analysis of the solutions. The deliverables from Improve phase are:-

  • Proposed Solution

  • Cost/Benefit Analysis

  • Pilot Plan


How to generate a proposed solution?

As a first step, we need to generate ideas to improve the process that solve the identified problems.  Let's discuss a few ideation techniques here.

Brainstorming using De-Bono Six Thinking Hats:

Dr.Bono Edward de Bono developed this six thinking hats technique to stay focused on the problem and keep the negativity and group arguments away. Those six hats are:-

  • The white hat thinking requires team to review only what information is available or required.

  • The red hat thinking encourages the team for risk-taking and right brain thinking. It helps the team to surface the conflict and air feelings without the fear of retribution.

  • The black hat calls for caution and critical judgment.

  • The blue hat helps the team the team to evaluate the thinking style and determine if it is appropriate

  • The green hat encourages the team to user divergent thinking and explore alternative ideas or options

  • The yellow hat is for optimism and the team looks at the logical benefits of the proposal.


Benchmarking is based on learning from others, rather than developing new approaches. It involves research into the best practices at the industry. The essence of benchmarking is the acquisition of information by looking at the best of best.

Pugh Matrix:

It refers to a matrix that determines a solution from the list of potential solutions. The solutions will be assigned some scores based on certain pre-defined criteria and the selection is based on the consolidated score.

Cost & Benefit Analysis:

It is a way to compare the cost & benefits of the solution and are expressed in monetary units. It is important as it allows the decision-makers to have comparison between expected cost and expected benefits to determine whether the proposed solution is worthy pursuing or not.

Pilot Plan:

A pilot is a test of a proposed solution and is performed on a small scale, usually on a subset. It helps to identify the unknown performance problems, improve the solution and understand any risks in the solution. If the pilot plan is success, then the implementation plan to be set in place to apply to the entire process.


The main outcome of the Improve phase is the selected, tested & validated solution. It is the most creative stage of DMAIC instead of relying on statistical analysis, the team is asked to come up with solutions for the problems. With this, solution implementation is planned and full scale implementation is carried out across the process post management approval.



The control phases ensures the team to answer 'How can we guarantee performance?'

In the improve phase, once the full scale implementation is rolled out and can see the visible process improvement, it is time to ensure that the project is finished successfully and the success observed should be sustained. This also involves the transfer of responsibility to the process owner.


a. Implement control system:

Control system is a complete strategy to sustain the improved process performance over time. It identifies the required actions and tools for maintaining the process improvements.

  • Ensure that the process stays in control after solution implementation

  • Ensure to detect the out of control state quickly so as to identify the causes and implement quick solutions before non-conformance are produced.

Develop a control plan which process owner will use as guidelines to sustain the improvement.

The control plan includes,

  • Process Documentation

  • Data Collection Plan

  • Mistake Proofing System - A technique for eliminating errors by making it impossible to make mistakes in the process.

  • Response/Reaction Plan

  • Communication Plan

  • Audit/Inspection Plan

  • Risk Mitigation System

  • Statistical Process Control


b. Document the Solution and Benefits and transfer to Process Owner:

The success solution should be documented so as to create reference for other processes in the organization. The results of the improvement and financial benefits should be monitored at least for a year.

Project Closure Report:

The project leader is responsible to prepare a Project Closure Document. The Project Closure document should contain the results of the project, control activities, status of incomplete tasks, approval of key stakeholders to confirm that the project is complete and met the exit criteria. The team should ensure when the project is completed, the responsibility is transferred to the process owner.


Moving into the Control phase of a project does not mean it is “closed.” It involves ongoing monitoring and defined accountability for sustained performance.



DMAIC is the specific methodology of Six Sigma that helps project managers through a step-by-step process to identify defects in the process, measure it, analyze it, improve it and control the process improvement.

Adapting DMAIC to the areas of improvement will definitely yield a high degree of success.

We can discuss each phase with it's tools and techniques in detail in my upcoming blogs. Stay tuned.

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A Senior Project Manager handling multiple Agile Development Projects. Certified in Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.