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  • Writer's pictureMatthew B. Courtney, Ed.D.

Getting Started with DMAIC

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Welcome to #BeyondTheMean! Check out this post to see what this blog is all about.

Are you struggling with a problem of practice that you just can’t seem to wrap your mind around? Consider deploying the DMAIC protocol during your next continuous improvement planning meeting. DMAIC stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. It comes from the popular Six Sigma continuous improvement program and is a common tool in the world of industry. It is similar in structure to the Plan-Do-Study-Act model but is more focused on designing solutions to targeted problems rather than monitoring the health of large systems. In this post, I want to provide a quick guide to help you deploy this tool in your setting.

Let’s start by considering when you might choose the DMAIC protocol and who you should bring to the table. DMAIC is a focused and reflective protocol. It is one that is best deployed by small teams, or subcommittees of larger teams, because it requires a level of trust and open communication and discussion to do effectively. Large teams may struggle to complete the DMAIC protocol due to having too many voices in the room at one time.

DMAIC planning is designed to end when your project is accomplished and so they are a great tool to use when you have already identified a problem of practice and are looking for a new way to address it. In my experience, these cycles run anywhere from 3-6 months, but can run longer if you need to adjust your plan mid-stream. This is also a great protocol to help set up a longer-term continuous improvement protocol, such as Plan-Do-Study-Act or action research cycles.

DMAIC planning is a five-step process that is designed to help you deeply understand your problem and act with intentionality.

  1. Define –The first step is to clearly define your problem. Make sure that everyone on your team understands your problem and would define it the same way.

  2. Measure –Measure the current efficacy of your system. The goal here is to gain a deep understanding of what is currently happening.

  3. Analyze –Analyze the current system to determine its defects. This is a good place to deploy some root cause analysis. You must understand the defects before you can improve upon them.

  4. Improve –Implement a new process to replace the broken one. This is a good place to turn to the research literature and select a strategy that is evidence-based.

  5. Control –Once you have implemented your new process, you need to put some structures in place to ensure that it will continue to work well into the future. In education-land, we often call this phase monitoring.

While DMAIC ends with the implementation of control mechanisms, that doesn’t mean that it can’t also cycle. For example, if you implement an improvement but don’t see a meaningful change, then you can cycle back to the measurement and analysis phases. Measure your improvement to understand the new system, analyze the new system, and improve upon it again.

Next time you are faced with a persistent problem of practice that you just can’t wrap your head around, consider deploying a DMAIC protocol. It gives you a focused, step-by-step framework with which you can re-focus the energy of your improvement team. Remember to deploy this protocol in an open and trusting setting where your teammates can speak freely. I have provided a template to guide your planning as a component of my eBook, Tools that Drive Continuous Improvement. You can download it for free in The Repository; I hope you find it helpful. Good luck on your journey friends!


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