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DMAIC: Enhance Your Problem-Solving Skills

Posted on: Jun 13, 2024 by Tamera Lank, Supply Chain Lead
 DMAIC: Enhance Your Problem-Solving Skills

We all face problems in our businesses, right? When problems surface, it’s easy to inject emotions into our problem-solving efforts.  We get defensive, we jump to conclusions, and we even jump to solutions immediately. That is our natural, human tendency. However, that would be the opposite of a pragmatic approach. A pragmatic approach would be more methodical. There are many tools used for problem-solving that can aid in taking a pragmatic approach. These tools help remove emotions and assumptions and walk us through the problem-solving practically. One such tool is DMAIC, a data-driven, customer-focused, structured problem-solving framework.  DMAIC is an acronym for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control and represents the five phases of this framework. Each phase is important in its own way but for this article I will focus on the first of the phases – Define, as well as some of the tools used within this phase. 


The first thing in problem-solving is to define the problem.  That is more difficult than it sounds.  Start by asking ‘what is wrong with what?’

Consider the following:

  • Where are the locations of the problematic events?
  • How long has the problem been occurring?
  • Was there a step change from the standard, a deterioration or a ‘never been there’ situation?
  • How is the problem detected?
  • How is the problem fixed in the short-term?
  • What is the financial impact of the problem?
  • Can the size of the problem be quantified? % defective?

 Scope the problem to a specific issue. Multiple problems will have multiple root causes. Therefore, it is important to focus on one problem at a time.  Your problem statement is just that, a statement and not a solution (remember we are not jumping to a solution).  A good problem statement gives perspective (historical background) shows need, provides quantitative evidence, defines scope (the boundaries of the problem you are solving), and the effect of the problem on your business.  

Supplier, Input, Process, Output, and Customer (SIPOC)

Another deliverable in the Define phase is to identify your customers (internal and external) and what value is to them.  Value is ONLY defined by the customer.  A great tool for this is a SIPOC.  SIPOC is an acronym for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, and Customer.  Start with defining the process (at a high level) that you are looking to improve in the Output column.  For each step, identify who your customer is for that process step and the output(s) of that step.  Then identify the input(s) you need to perform the process step and who your supplier(s) is for that input. 

What is great about the SIPOC tool is that it opens up opportunities to have critical dialogue with your customers, internal and external, to find out what value is to them and then change your processes to be full of value as defined by the customer. 

Use of the SIPOC tool can really help you gain and keep a competitive advantage by delivery value and improving your process outputs to the customers you serve.   

Using the DMAIC method and these tools will ensure you are taking a more pragmatic approach to the problem and that you get to the right answers.