DMAIC... a tool for controlling "the quick fix" and Murphy's Law.

The following is the original and rewrite can be found by clicking here.

Up front I will say I have had Six Sigma Black Belt training, completed a project and have been in my share of "deep dive and fishbone" meetings, but am not certified... this makes me profoundly obnoxious when it comes to all things functional excellence and know just enough to be dangerous. (in a safe and good intentioned sort of way) 

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed by Motorola and made famous by Jack Welsh, as part of his management strategy at General Electric. As a big fan of creative problem solving and optimizing execution, process improvement offers a vast treasure chest of frameworks and tools; one of my most favorite is the DMAIC project methodology. Define. Measure. Analyze. Improve. Control.*

  • Define the system, the voice of the customer, their requirements, and the project goals.
  • Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data.
  • Analyze the data to investigate and verify cause-and-effect relationships. 
  • Improve or optimize the current process based upon data analysis 
  • Control the future state process to ensure that any deviations from the target are corrected before they result in defects. 

In the context of Problem Solving, DMIAC can be slightly tweaked with regard to language and become a nice framework for working through problems:

  • Define the problem at hand and its impact internally and externally.
  • Measure the key aspects of the problem regarding its impact.
  • Analyze the problem to determine possible solutions
  • Improve the situation with a solution and execution plan.
  • Control the solution's future state to ensure the problem doesn't re-occur or create a new problem.

The DMAIC framework comes in handy for problem solving, but it is with the reminder to CONTROL that truly secures its utility in the proverbial toolbox - Control the solution's future state to ensure the problem doesn't re-occur or creates a new problem... or as I like to say, control "the quick fix". And we all know what that looks like; the duct tape used to stop a water leak; the coat hanger to hold up the muffler; the part-time employee responsible for an important strategic initiative... all fine examples of "the quick fix". 

I understand that urgency may require "the quick fix" use of duct tape to prevent your basement from flooding, but in reality it should be a step in the solution, not the solution. And this is why I like DMAIC in my toolbox... it is a reminder to ask the question, "Is the solution to the problem a quick fix or a solution that has controlled the problem for the long term?" 

Why should you care about controlling the quick fix? That's an easy answer, to reduce the impact of Murphy's Law which states, "If anything can go wrong, it will". Murphy's Law, by nature will unravel your quick fix solution at the most inopportune time, more often than not, causing problems much larger than original problem the quick fix tried to address.

Remember that duct tape used to stop the leak and was good enough to do the job? Murphy's Law will guarantee an hour after you have left for a long weekend get-away the tape will peak away from the pipe and when you get home you will be greeted by thousands of dollars in water damage. Fiction maybe, but then again this is the type of story Murphy's Law encourages.

Murphy's Law is a universal constant**, but my experience is remembering DMAIC and avoiding the "quick fix" will reduce the number of times you say to yourself, "What was I thinking!"


* DMIAC definitions generously supplied by Wikipedia

** There is no scientific data to suggest Murphy's Law is a universal constant but sometimes it does feel that way.