DMAIC drops the mic!

I entertained myself more than I should have with that title.

So yesterday I wrote about how you might want to think more about which method to use to solve a problem before you get into solving it as I am a strong believer that each popular method has its strengths and weaknesses for different types of problems. I am of course assuming in this that you know more than one method or have access to experts across several methods. I realise this isn’t always the case.

So what about DMAIC? Well to start with I absolutely love DMAIC. It is my favorite method to use when problem solving myself and my favorite to coach. I love the elegant connectedness (not a real word) of all the different parts and how they weave together to form a free flow story line from event to causes to significant x’s and back to responses. Just talking about it gets me wanting to do some regression analysis!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with DMAIC WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???? It is the backbone method for six sigma the hallowed continuous improvement movement based around statistical analysis of data. You can find more about six sigma here. There is a section on DMAIC there as well.

As you might have read in my previous post Do we have a problem, I am not a fan of too much data in problem solving. I find it confuses people and blurs the reality to the point where we can struggle to find the correct path. This would at first glance seem to contradict with six sigma. I mean its about statistics and everyone knows that when it comes to statistics more data is better. So why then say it is so great? The key here is that DMAIC gives you a framework and tools in which to continuously prioritise the different inputs you get, focus down on the important ones, decide how you want to measure them and take control of your incoming data for real good!

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It seems like magic! The first time I was walked through this path by my teacher and mentor Graham I was amazed and astounded in how clear you can make things and take control of information to assimilate it into an interpret-able result!

So going back to the beginning of the post. When would you maybe look to use DMAIC over KT PA (Kepner Tregoe Problem Analysis) for example? My thought is DMAIC:

  • Lends itself to big process problems. It analyzes systems and has the tools to create the understanding of these
  •  If you have easy sets of continuous data DMAIC is going to be your man
  • Problems where you are short on data and you know you need to get out there and gather more (again beware of thinking this all the time). DMAIC has the tools to help you gather the RIGHT data from the start

Anyway, that is it from me with regards to DMAIC. If you want a more detailed breakdown of anything in here please comment and I will do my best to help!

The best problem solving route is…?

I will start by apologizing as this isn’t going to cover the whole topic. But hopefully something interesting for you. There are many different problem solving methods and tools out there that people like to use and they even have different ways of using the same tools as well, which makes life very interesting. It is important to distinguish between a tool and method as a first step (get it?). A tool is a specific method used to execute a step in a methodology. Clear? Just kidding. But to be a little more serious. A method we should consider to be a the highest level set of steps that we need to follow to solve a problem. A tool can be the whole or part of the way to execute a step in a method.

Some of the popular methods for problem solving out there are:

  • Kaizen defect reduction routes
  • Six Sigma DMAIC
  • Kepner Tregoe Problem Analysis
  • A3

There are of course many others. Here where I work we have our own method that we developed to better reflect our organisation and that is great.

I am sure you don’t need me to tell you that wars have been fought in meeting rooms over which method is the best and clearly the real answer is, it depends. It depends on many things but let’s highlight what it should depend on and shouldn’t. You should not select or say a certain methodology is the best just because it matches your personal bias. What do I mean? Unfortunately, I asked a KT consultant once about this and their answer was disappointingly obvious. Ask a six sigma consultant you will probably get a similarly obvious view. I do not believe that one single problem solving method is the best.

Each different problem solving method has it’s own unique characteristics that make it particularly useful to certain types of problems.

This post was inspired when I bumped into my colleague Fredrik the other day. He had been reading this blog (good lad!) and told me he was going to use the KT tools on a problem (he attended a 3 day PSDM workshop that I held a year or so ago). The discussion went to about how the KT problem analysis helps with a certain type of problem and I think it really does.

(What will follow goes into some detail on the KT method so if you don’t know it apologies). There are 2 things that I find most powerful about the KT problem analysis. Firstly there is the obvious IS / IS NOT when describing the problem. The questions you learn, frame the information in such an easily responded to way. Then the distinctions and changes tease out the sometimes hard to perceive but crucially important combinations that can help identify the root cause. In this case there was a change that they already knew about and Fredrik was concerned that this might bias the analysis. So the advice on this from me? Focus on the distinctions and I should have also told him (make sure the possible causes can explain all the facts! Sorry Fredrik forgot that one)

Now this may not seem like it really says when you should use KT over Six Sigma or vice versa but perhaps when you have a sense of what problem faces you think about how you would go about solving the problem with the different methods and then choose the one that seems the best fit. This can at least challenge bias which is the first step to overcoming it!

Kepner Tregoe will make you more effective in everyday business

First a disclaimer. I am not paid by Kepner Tregoe (KT), in fact, they do not even know that I am writing this post. They will once I publish it, I will email them and tell them. Lets start this with a short history lesson, of course it is about myself…..

I was introduced to the KT rational processes very soon after I moved to Sweden. They are most commonly taught as part of an intensive 3 day training course. I didn’t really get the tools to be honest. By the end of the 3 days I was quite confused about the how the problem solving process worked, completely befuddled by situation appraisal but pretty ok with potential problem analysis (after all it is risk management and I had just come from an intense project management environment) and very inspired by decision analysis. If you do not know Kepner Tregoe and do not know what these terms are it is not up to me here to fill you in on all that good stuff, instead I suggest you go hit them up at All the Kepner Tregoe consultants I have met have been fun, intelligent and helpful so do not hesitate to contact them. Let me continue the history lesson.

After about 5 years of occasionally doing decision analysis and not really using the other tools very much I moved positions and took a much greater responsibility for driving and support problem solving activities. At this point my director and I decided I really needed to know these KT tools better and should be capable of training others to use them. I therefore spent a fantastic 2 weeks (read; hardest 2 weeks of my professional life) in their program leader course in Princeton NJ (incidentally it was while I was in Princeton for the second time with KT I met my now wife for the first time). I can tell you if you think you don’t understand the processes after 3 days training you nail them in the first 48 hours of the program leader course. It’s all you do. Epic doesn’t even describe it. I came out of those 2 weeks feeling more confident about how to solve problems, support myself and others making decisions, mapping risks (potential problems in KT language) and appraising situations.

The KT tools are incredibly intuitive and probably provide some level of cognitive reprogramming as they definitely re-wire the way you approach business situations. They help you sort useful from garbage data, decide what is relevant to consider when you decide something, break things down into actionable items so you can really understand what to do next and plan for successful outcomes every time. I can say honestly that my knowledge of the KT system has helped me immensely through out my career since.

I thoroughly recommend you check them out and you will not regret it.