The DMAIC problem-solving method may seem like a stranger to the A3 but they actually make a great pair. This continuous improvement combo brings much-needed clarity to Kaizen Events, Projects or any process opportunity. But first, a bit of background.
We all may know DMAIC as it was born from the Scientific Method and the creation of Six Sigma back in the 1980’s at Motorola. DMAIC is the acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. These 5 Phases, or broad steps, create the logical and structured approach to improving processes. But when DMAIC was first postulated, it did not include the “D” or Define Phase. Only when General Electric (GE) began to use the methodology within their enterprise, did the Define Phase become integral to what we now call DMAIC.
GE found that with so many opportunities to address across their business, they had to put in more effort in advance to properly define the opportunity and its benefits. In this way, they could select the projects or improvements with the most meaningful business impact.
DMAIC is typically defined this way:
- Define—What is the business opportunity?
- Measure—What are the process’ current state metrics?
- Analyze—Determine root cause or what is Y= f(x)?
- Improve—How to eliminate waste and reduce variation?
- Control—How to establish controls to sustain the gains or results?
DMAIC—A Method for All Seasons
DMAIC is usually associated with Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma. But if you think about it, it’s also used with Lean and Kaizen. Before you launch a Lean project or Kaizen event, you still need to outline or define the opportunity and the reasons to choose that effort, right? So, Define is the start—the same as with Lean Six Sigma or Six Sigma.
What’s next? In nearly all Kaizen events, the team seeks to understand and assess the current state of the process or area. That’s Measure! After measuring, the team seeks to Analyze the current state to identify opportunities to Improve. After implementing the improvements, standard work, metrics or other process controls are established to sustain the gains. That is Control!
DMAIC and the A3 Format
What does that look like in an A3 format? Remember, A3 is the European designation for an 11 x 17-inch piece of paper which is double the size of the typical 8.5 x 11 inch size used in most printers and copiers. The A3 method was developed for Managers and Learners to work together on a problem or project. For more on the A3 methodology, see the book Managing to Learn, 2008 by John Shook.
While A3s were initially hand-written or drawn, in today’s digital world, the A3 can be any desired size and could look like the example pictured below (from an Excel worksheet):
A3: Define—What is the Business Opportunity?
In order to make the A3 process using DMAIC truly simple, let’s explore each of the 7 main sections to this digital A3 template. First, we start with Define. There are 3 things we need to complete in the upper-left Define section. First, what is the Kaizen Event or Project Title? By providing a specific title, we begin to crystalize our thinking and start to realize the event or project. Often the title may be the name of a process or the name of a project. Try to be specific but brief. More details will follow in the next two sections.
It may seem obvious, but the next step is to ask ourselves, “Why are we talking about it?” In this section we need to define the reasons to invest time and effort into the event or project. If we cannot easily provide a rationale to do the work, we don’t want to go further. Often a good way to tackle this section is to collaborate on the A3 with someone else. An ideal approach is to have the Kaizen Event facilitator or Project Leader complete this with their manager or with the Process or Area “owner.” The owner is the person who is responsible for the process being addressed or the area for the project.
Once we know the “why” of addressing the event or project, our next step is to Define, “Where are we today and what is the problem?” This is not the same as the previous section of why we are talking about it. In this part of the A3, we need to state the current situation or status of the process. How many people are currently involved, how many steps are in the process, how many forms or how long does it take or how much does it cost, are all good starting points. Again, it is ideal to collaborate on this section of the A3 as suggested previously. We want to keep it high-level, but we should provide enough detail to give the event or project a clear starting point.
A3: Measure—What are the Current State Metrics?
The last bit to complete on the middle-left part of the A3 is section III, Measure. Here is where we list which metrics should be addressed. The template provides the most common ones used in Kaizen Events:
- Lead Time
- Work in Process (WIP)
- Process Steps or Touches
- # of People Involved
- Distance traveled or Space required
- Standard Work
- 7S (Safety, Security and 5S/workplace organization)
Some events or projects may wish to utilize these metrics:
- # of Forms or Reports
- # of Handoffs
- % Complete and Accurate
- % Right First Time or First Pass Yield %
There are many options to consider, however, it’s best to focus on 4-7 metrics that will reflect the changes that are planned to improve the process or measure the project and its success. Regardless of the measures chosen, try to use a target of 50% improvement. Why choose 50%? It’s a good goal in absence of knowing what is possible. Think of it as halfway, which is a challenging yet reasonable target for most measures. It also helps drive a paradigm shift in our current thinking. If we must improve the measure by 50%, we likely won’t get there with the same thinking that resulted in the current process.
A3—Who are the Process Owners?
Once the Measure section is completed, we are finished with the upper- and middle-left sections of the A3. But we still have a little more planning and organizing work to complete. Let’s go through the upper-right section of the A3 now. Here is where we Define the owners, experts, outsiders and facilitators or project leaders. We also note the dates and location of our meeting or work effort. Again, this section is best completed by the Project Leader or Facilitator with the Process Owner or Area Owner where the work will be done.
Is there just one Process Owner or is there more than one? List the primary Process Owner first. He or she will be responsible for “owning” the process or project outcome and this person must be involved in the Kaizen Event or the Project.
A3—Who are the Process Experts?
Next is the Process Experts section. Process Experts are the people who do the work in the process or will be implementing the project and will sustain it when it is complete. Process Experts also must be involved in the Kaizen Event or Project. They “live and breathe” the current state of the process and have all the direct working knowledge. While it is good to have supervisors, managers or other expert leaders involved in a Kaizen Event, they should be in the Process Owner category not in the Process Expert column if possible. Experts are the “doers” and must be a part of the team. More experts are better than just one. Try to have a least a few involved.
A3—Who are the Process Outsiders?
The Process Outsider section is a great place to have people not at all familiar with the process or project being addressed but have good analytical or other skills that they can bring to the team. Process Outsiders should be unbiased or objective team players who can ask the question, “Why do we do it that way?” This is also a good way to get others who may not be familiar with the Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma or DMAIC methodology to get some exposure. Process Outsiders should come from other areas beyond the Process or Area being addressed to ensure they’re impartial.
A3—Who are the Facilitators?
The last section is the Facilitator column. Here is where to list the event facilitators. Or, this could be the Project Leaders area. Once this section is completed, the Facilitator should work with the Process or Area Owner to define where and when the team will meet for the event or for the project. Once those two boxes are completed, it is best to send out a meeting invite to the entire team and attach a copy of the A3. Ideally, this takes place 2-4 weeks in advance of the actual event date(s). Allow 1-2 weeks lead time at a minimum to help ensure team availability and achieve good attendance by all team members.
Once the prework is completed, the next steps will be completed during the actual improvement event or during the project. The next step is to Measure the process and gather any data not already known. A good way to do this is to walk the process or watch a video of the process. Another good approach is to draw a Process Map and identify all the key measures discussed earlier. A recommendation here is Measure first. Try not to jump to Analyze and Improve until the measuring is completed.
A3: Analyze—what is Y= f(x)?
In section (IV), we will Analyze the process. This may involve various problem-solving methods from the Lean Six Sigma Toolbox. Some popular ones are listed here:
- 5 Whys
- Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagrams
- Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)
- Look-Ask-Model-Discuss-Act (LAMDA)
- Interview experts
- Situation Appraisal/Problem Analysis (Kepner Tregoe)
A3: Improve—How to eliminate waste and reduce variation?
Once Analyze is complete and the root cause is identified and verified, it’s time to Improve. Again, we can turn to the Lean Six Sigma Toolbox and utilize some of these popular improvement methodologies:
- Standard Work
- Set-up Reduction or Single-Minute-Exchange-of-Die (SMED)
- Poka-yoke or Mistake Proofing
Note that Improve has two sections. The first section establishes the countermeasures to implement the in order to prevent or mitigate the problems discovered during the Analyze section. The second of the Improve sections are the actions completed and yet-to-be-completed in order to finish the Kaizen Event or complete the Project. Since this A3 form is digital, we can embed photos, action lists or diagrams in each section as desired.
A3: Control—How to establish controls to sustain the gains or results?
The last section to complete is Control. Section VII Control is all about sustaining the gains. First, we need to make sure that all actions from sections V and VI are either complete or no longer needed. But the most important part of this section is how the improvements will be sustained. What are the new measures in place to monitor progress? Is the Process Owner ensuring that the new Standard Work is being followed? Is the 7S or Kanban discipline in place and continuing to be followed regularly?
This last section is ultimately the responsibility of the Process or Area Owner, but often the Facilitator or Project Leader meets with the Process Owner to check on progress or sustaining of the work completed.
A suggestion that seems to help with Control is to hold a short weekly stand-up meeting with all action item owners and the Process Owner. These meetings should continue until all actions are completed or it’s agreed they are no longer necessary. Afterward, checking the measures and progress are good to do at least every other week for the next few months.
To see how it all comes together, here is an example of a completed A3 Mandate for an “Accounting Process Close” Kaizen Event. The names have been removed, but the other content remains unchanged.
When completed, the A3 provides a one-page summary of the event or project. Some organizations use this document to add to a project database or “Wiki” for reference and referral.