5-phase process improvement with the DMAIC methodology

Manufacturing employees discussing a process on the shop floor
Key takeaways
  • DMAIC is a five-phase problem-solving methodology used in continuous process improvement
  • DMAIC defines the problem clearly, measures the impact of the problem, uncovers the root causes, implements an innovative solution, and ensures the improvement is sustained
  • There are many useful tools to assist you in executing each phase of the DMAIC process
1 March 2023 – DMAIC is an acronym for a five-phase problem-solving technique. The five phases are: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. This blog looks at each of these phases in more detail and suggests some useful tools for every phase.

How does the DMAIC methodology work?

The DMAIC methodology is a structured quality improvement and problem-solving approach. Although it often drives Lean Six Sigma projects, this methodology is applicable in diverse industries and companies.

The five phases must be carried out in order, i.e. first define, then measure, then analyze, then improve, then control. As part of the final “control” phase, you may find that the product or process can be further improved, and in that way, the process can start again where the new improvement can be defined – hence DMAIC is a cyclical tool.

DMAIC is a thorough, data-driven approach to problem-solving that helps you find the root cause of a problem and implement continuous process improvement.


Download the how-to guide Strategic problem-solving for executives for more problem-solving techniques you can add to your toolkit.


Choosing the right problem

It’s important to select a problem that you can assess or measure in terms of the current state and the future improvement. Also consider its potential impact for the business – such as:

  • A cost saving
  • Reduced lead time
  • Less defects
  • Improved employee and customer satisfaction

Once you’ve identified a problem with a potentially big impact, select a project team to resolve the issue.


The 5 phases of the DMAIC methodology

Certain actions need to occur during each of the five phases of DMAIC. Once you understand these phases and the actions involved, you’ll be able to apply the DMAIC methodology to solve a process, product or customer problem where the solution is currently unknown.

Here are the five phases of DMAIC carried out by the project team:



Collect and record all of your current knowledge in a project charter.

You can start by defining who the internal and external customers are, as well as their requirements and expectations. Ask questions to understand how the problem affects them. Use critical process outputs such as Critical to Quality (CTQ) and Voice of the Customer (VOC).

This will help you clearly define the problem with a focused problem statement that answers questions such as: What is the problem? How often does it happen? What is its impact?

During the define phase:

  • Present the business case for the improvement project
  • Outline the scope of the project
  • Provide a timeline for completion
  • Define the problem and its impact
  • List the project goals, targets and resource requirements
  • Map out every step in the current process using a value stream map; the map is a process visualization tool that provides a high-level overview for all team members working on the project

Useful tools during this phase: Project charter, value stream mapping (VSM), flow chart or process map, Voice of the Customer analysis, SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer) diagram





During the measure phase, measure the extent of the problem.

During the measure phase, decide how to measure the problem and then measure the current state:

  • What metrics will you use?
  • What are the measurement tools and criteria?
  • What data will you collect to help you measure the problem?
  • Is the data reliable?
  • Measure the current performance

In essence, you are examining and measuring the current performance of the business process in question. This establishes a baseline or the “as is” state which you will use to measure the effect of any improvements later on. The baseline may use metrics such as the duration of a process, the number of defects and costs.

Measuring the problem highlights where issues are happening. This may result in a redefining of the problem to focus on the most urgent issues.

Useful tools during this phase: A process map or value stream map from the define phase, data collection plan, benchmarking, bar chart, run chart, control chart, Pareto chart


Pareto chart



This phase identifies the root causes of the problem and opportunities for improvement. Scrutinize and prioritize these opportunities – some of which may have been picked up even earlier in the DMAIC process.

During the analyze phase:

  • Analyze all the data gathered in the previous step to understand the gap between the current performance and the targeted performance
  • Identify and document any sources of variation
  • Avoid the urge to jump to conclusions as this will risk causing new problems
  • Drill deep into the cause of the issue and confirm any theories using tools such as a Pareto chart or run chart that helps to visualize numerical data and identify patterns

Useful tools during this phase: Pareto chart, fishbone diagram, 5Why Analysis, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)


Fishbone diagram



Now that you know the cause of the problem, how will you solve it?

During the improve phase:

  • Improve the process by finding and designing innovative solutions for the problem’s root cause
  • You cannot implement all the solutions and therefore need to select the most practical solution; use an impact effort matrix to assist you in finding the solution with the biggest impact and least effort or cost
  • Communicate the solution and its effectiveness to all stakeholders
  • Run a small, pilot project to ensure your improvements are successful; you could use a testing cycle known as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) to evaluate the results
  • Document and deploy an implementation plan for a large-scale implementation that will improve the baseline measure and overall customer experience
  • Celebrate successes by formally or informally recognizing those involved in the improvements; acknowledging contributions helps motivate team members to continuously improve their processes

Useful tools during this phase: Brainstorming, benchmarking, impact effort matrix, PDCA cycle


The pdca cycle



You’ve improved the process, but how do you sustain this improvement? This phase ensures you adhere to the new process for ongoing success.

During the control phase:

  • Create a monitoring plan and response plan so that the process owner can monitor the improved process, measure actual performance, and respond to any decline in performance
  • Review the process from time to time to ensure the new methods are working well
  • If further improvements are necessary, repeat the DMAIC methodology – the aim is continual improvement

Useful tools during this phase: Standard work, process control plan, control chart to ensure key variables stay within acceptable ranges


Control charts


By working through the five phases discussed above, the DMAIC methodology guides the project team and can result in break-through and sustainable improvements for your organization.

Download the how-to guide Developing a customer-focused quality improvement plan for more on involving the customer in your product and process improvements.

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