In most cases of organizational shortcomings, those that buckle from the pressures brought on by the increasingly complex and unpredictable environment cannot pinpoint the exact causes of their difficulty. The reason is that the crack that develops in the otherwise smooth operation of an organization may be caused by a wide variety of external factors, among them globalization, new technologies, heightened competition, stricter regulations, pickier customers, different market behavior, social and political upheavals or higher cost of labor and materials.

The root cause may also be internal in origin, such as lack of motivation and initiative among employees or a flaw somewhere in the production line, which is as difficult to isolate and quantify. This problem has become so common in present-day efforts to achieve operational excellence that management scholars advocate the adoption of the Six Sigma methodology, which is basically about defect identification and prevention, cycle time reduction and cost savings.

There is, in turn, an increasing support for the view that a Six Sigma team can do its work better in process and product improvement if the project uses the DMAIC approach. This paper aims to gain a better understanding of the DMAIC process by dissecting the corresponding tools that make it such a widely accepted instrument for a Six Sigma quality improvement plan. Six Sigma Process The Six Sigma process is about organizational change and the six elements referred to in the term, which serve as its change agents, are: leadership, champions, sponsors, master black belts, black belts and green belts (Pyzdek online).

The reference to karate cannot be helped because the concept was developed by the Japanese who took over Motorola in the 1970s when competition was driving the US operations of the Japanese company to the edge of bankruptcy. One of the main reasons was that Motorola, which manufactured the Quasar TV sets in the US, could not keep up with foreign competitors who were able to produce high-quality products at lower costs. The Japanese themselves are credited with the earlier conceptualization of total quality management in their tenacious search for quality improvement in the 1950s.

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This was adopted in the US in the 1960s and in Europe in the 1980s. TQM attacks problems on product or service efficiency based on the premise that all activities in an organization contribute to quality or lack of it. However, total quality management has lately come into disuse because of perceptions that quality improvement is an exclusive function of the quality department such that it is confined to the assigned quality circles and a few industrial engineers.

Thus, it is concentrated on enhancing the organizational processes with the use of statistical methods and on defect reductions, with less consideration given to improving the bottom line (Das online). The Six Sigma method has a more expanded an all-encompassing focus. At Motorola, the Japanese carried out the first Six Sigma project by finding ways to make production better, faster and cheaper, using the same workforce, the same technology and designs but a different management approach (Pyzdek online). As a result, Motorola was soon producing with less than 1 percent of the number of defects noted before in its products and services.

Both the complete Six Sigma principle and the Lean Six Sigma version, when put to use with the participation and commitment of all departments, have proven effective in realizing significant savings in operational costs, speeding up the product life cycle and reducing non-value added activities (George, 2002). The complete Six Sigma process may be applied to cost-cutting and reducing variations while the Lean Six Sigma version may be applied only to 3 or 4 operational areas, such as the human resource, production and service departments.

A Lean Six Sigma approach, which may use only a few of the Six Sigma elements, is believed ideal for a firm that uses support services as part of its organizational structure. This approach may integrate the process improvement focus of TQM, the product focus of Six Sigma, and the systems approach to processes of the value stream method (Das online). The Six Sigma approach has proven effective in all types of industries, including the service, distribution and manufacturing sectors, and is useful for struggling firms or those nearing bankruptcy and even the prosperous ones (George, 2002).

The trick is to employ strategy in a systematic manner not in isolation, with the support of top management and all stakeholders. This is what DMAIC is all about. The Six Sigma process is a proven methodology for formalizing the improvement process, streamlining operations, exposing performance bottlenecks and driving continuous yet controlled improvement (Parametric Technology Corp. , 2005), all of which can only happen if the tenets of Six Sigma are applied properly and the corresponding practices are made an integral part of the product development strategy.

These tenets, according to Fleischer, include: 1) specifying value in the eyes of customers or stakeholders, 2) identifying the value stream, 3) simplifying the steps and eliminating the waste and variations along the value stream, 4) involving and empowering the employees, and 5) continuously improving knowledge to achieve perfection. All these require the basic interlocking elements of Six Sigma, which are visualization, commitment, prioritization, characterization, improvement and achievement.

In visualizing its goal, the Six Sigma team makes an overall statement of the problem and at the same time sets its vision for the future and the best practice model that it would follow throughout. The team needs to commit all the organization’s resources and stakeholders to this effort while it sets its priorities by developing a set of criteria for its improvement activities, analyzing the corresponding decisions and assessing the gaps in these decisions. In characterization, the team identifies the value stream, analyzes the root causes of the perceived problem and assesses the possible solutions.

The next step is to improve by monitoring the metrics, reorienting the personnel and deploying and institutionalizing the new practices. Finally, it’s time to achieve the vision, which can be done by sharing knowledge and best practices and continually improving the metrics (Fleischer). The beauty of Six Sigma is its simplicity such that it only needs to focus on a few aspects and on measurements, which measurements become the knowledge asset that would guide the project team.

However, Six Sigma is bound to fail or will achieve only partial gains if it is put to work without the proper infrastructure (Pyzdek online). DMAIC Process The voluminous literature on Six Sigma indicates that the DMAIC improvement model is critical to its success and is in fact the generally accepted approach to process improvement for a Six Sigma effort (Taylor online). DMAIC is a systematic, scientific and fact-based process that eliminates the root causes of inefficiencies and improves an organization’s ability to remain No. in the eyes of its customers or stakeholders.

As with the basic Six Sigma approach, DMAIC aims to simplify the quality process but employs a wider variety of tools for better results. Through these DMAIC tools, a Six Sigma team attacks a problem through the six essential stages of the method: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (Taylor online). Schultz (online) adds Implement to the whole process to create the DMAIIC acronym but whether as DMAIC or DMAIIC, the process employs the same strategy and yields more or less the same results.

Based on the DMAIC principle, a Six Sigma project team gets to work by defining the task, measuring the impact of the problem on the organization, analyzing its root causes, implementing an improvement plan, and controlling the process improvements. The same activities are called for by the DMAIIC system espoused by Schultz (online), with the addition of the implement phase when the project team is supposed to take actions based on the define, measure, analyze and improve stages.

As either DMAIC or DMAIIC, the method is described as a disciplined process that allows Six Sigma practitioners to effectively address, implement and sustain permanent and cost-effective improvements in an organization’s processes and practices. On its own, the DMAIC provides managers with the critical knowledge and information that will enable them to design and deploy productive and cost-effective management practices that drive the results they want to experience, receive and understand the best practices for firms in the service sector, and guide and plan operational excellence in their areas of accountability (Taylor online).

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