six sigma problem solving methods

How to Solve Your Problems With Lean Six Sigma (Free DMAIC Checklist)

six sigma problem solving methods

Elisabeth Swan is the co-author of “The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit” and co-host of “The Just-in-Time Cafe Podcast.” She’s been a process improvement consultant, speaker, and innovator for over 30 years. She’s the Chief Learning Experience Officer for, a former cast member of ImprovBoston, and – if asked – may still be able to ride a unicycle.

Surgeon Atul Gawande made headlines when he told the world that a simple checklist could drastically reduce unnecessary deaths in The Checklist Manifesto .

Yet, checklists conjure images of forklift drivers on loading docks with clipboards counting boxes. How could they transform healthcare?

“ He has… produced a 90-second checklist which reduced deaths and complications by more than one-third in eight hospitals around the world – at virtually no cost and for almost any operation. ” – James Clarke, reviewing The Checklist Manifesto,  Ulster Med J. 2011 Jan; 80(1): 54.

Aviation was transformed decades earlier when management and engineers at Boeing Corporation created the pre-flight checklist after the 1935 crash of the prototype Boeing B-17 at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Checklists have become so essential to the airline industry that most crashes can be traced to the misuse or failure to complete a checklist.

A New York Times reviewer noted, “no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes”. Since the purpose of process improvement is improving outcomes, Lean Six Sigma and checklists are natural companions.

To prove that, this Process Street blog post will show the relationship between checklists and lean six sigma, and provide you with a free  DMAIC Improvement Project Tollgate Checklist that you can use right now.

Use the links below to jump to that section of the post:

Lean Six Sigma and the role of problem-solving

Lean six sigma & the checklist, introduction phase, define phase, measure phase, analyze phase, improve phase, control phase, checklists and lean six sigma, use process street to reduce error.

Or, if you just want the checklist, check it out below!

Let’s get started.

For those unfamiliar with Lean Six Sigma and process improvement, it is a structured approach for organizations to scrutinize how things are done, poke at data and processes to uncover waste and then cut out things like extra forms, out-dated approvals and other time-wasting steps.

It’s a customer-focused, 5-step problem-solving model that engages entire workforces to constantly seek a better way of doing things.

Proof of Lean Six Sigma’s influence is evident in today’s hiring practices. A poll by GoLeanSixSigma highlights that hiring managers prefer a person who is “ Green Belt Certified ” – having substantial Lean Six Sigma skills – by an almost 80% margin. In an interview with the former head of Twitter, problem-solving emerged as the top skill sought by today’s most influential hiring managers.

lean six sigma - qualification

In other words, problem-solving (especially via Lean Six Sigma) is an absolutely vital skill.

If problem-solving is a must-have skill and checklists are key to good outcomes, then combining the two makes sense.

DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve & Control – is the 5-Step model for Lean Six Sigma and there’s a set of required tollgates at the end of each phase. These tollgates outline what has to be done in order to move the problem-solving process forward.

Using the tollgates as an outline, we created a dynamic  Process Street template  that you can use for free and run checklists from to track your progress!

Before you can start solving problems, you need a problem to solve.

Picking a process issue – and finding someone in leadership to support you – are two required tasks in this first tollgate. Scoping the project is important (bigger than a “just-do-it” and smaller than “solving world hunger”) but even more critical is finding a Sponsor.

Finding a Sponsor

In a poll asking Lean Six Sigma practitioners what they considered the biggest obstacle to process improvement success, “Getting Leadership Support” accounted for almost a third.

lean six sigma obstacles

When we coach team leads who tell us they can’t find someone to back their project, we let them know, “No Sponsor, no project”. If nobody in charge has any skin in the game, there’s no point in attempting the process fix. Find a different project that leadership supports.

One thing that helps when searching for leadership backing is being able to explain what Lean Six Sigma is and why it makes a difference. Since the checklist template is dynamic we inserted a video in the Define Phase within the checklist item, “Enlist a Project Champion/Sponsor who will support you and the project”. The team lead can share the video with managers or directors who they consider Sponsor candidates.

lean six sigma dmaic checklist - project champion

There’s also a Project Selection Guide Template embedded in the checklist so users can take a project idea and put it through a few screening questions. Is it a repeating problem? Is there a way to measure it? The checklist serves as a reminder, a source of templates, supporting videos and other just-in-time guidance.

The next set of tollgate tasks cover the Define Phase of DMAIC. This is where problem-solvers clarify the problem, the process impacted and customers of the process.

There is a journey of discovery during this phase as everyone agrees on the issue to solve. One of the big challenges is the tendency of ambitious team leads—or equally ambitious Sponsors—to try to “shoot the moon.”

Shooting the moon

They might want to reduce cycle time, reduce defects , improve margins, and increase customer satisfaction all by next Tuesday. But a project that focuses on everything accomplishes nothing. It’s okay to measure the cost reduction that results from reducing defects. But pick one of those to be the goal. Success is more possible if you focus on one goal at a time .

It takes practice and discipline to develop a manageable goal statement. Another moon shot is aiming for perfection out of the starting gate. When we see a goal statement that claims the team will, “reduce defects from 25% to 0%” then we know there is a sizable risk of failure and disappointment.

That’s why the Define Phase of the checklist includes a Goal Builder Template along with a blog providing tips on how to create well-crafted goal statements.

lean six sigma dmaic checklist - goal statement

The primary focus of the Measure Phase is to baseline the process. If you’re trying to reduce defects, you need to know how you’re doing at that now. What’s your track record? You need to know the baseline of the process in order to measure whether or not you made a difference with your improvement when you get to the Improve Phase.

You need to know the gap, so you can close the gap.

The data’s in the system, somewhere…

One of the issues we run into in this phase is problem solvers assuming that data is sitting in a system somewhere waiting to be accessed. If they simply run a report, they’ll have the baseline. Check that off the list. But that rarely goes according to plan.

Maybe there’s system data, but was it entered with care? Is it reliable? We’ve seen teams struggle to use data that didn’t make sense. They could access cycle time data, but it didn’t take into account that the workday ended at 5:00. I had another team looking at why healthcare invoices had to be manually adjusted. They looked up the defect codes and the biggest category was “Other”. System data existed, but it was useless.

Most of the time, it helps to collect some data manually. In order to think through your approach, you need a Data Collection Plan. That involves listing the data you want and considering things like stratification factors—the “who, what, when, where” of data. If you’re looking at defects, should you collect data on defects by product? Defects by the fields on a form? Defects by customer type?

Within the task: “Develop a Data Collection Plan with Operational Definitions and create Check Sheets as Needed”, we’ve embedded a template (The Data Collection Plan) and a video to guide the process.

You’ll learn a lot by collecting the data firsthand, so if the perfect data set is not magically sitting in the system, it helps to have a plan.

Analyze is the crux of the DMAIC method. This is where learners drill down and discover the root cause of the process problem they’ve been chasing. Once you do that, you can solve the problem for good.

But if you have not determined the root cause then you might be solving a “symptom,” putting a bandaid on the problem or implementing a change based on a hunch. All of this means there’s a high likelihood the problem will remain and the efforts will have been in vain.

Finding the smoking gun

If you’ve always been told, “don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution,” that’s an encouragement to jump right past this step into the fun of solutions. I’ve seen teams go with their assumptions regardless of what the data says or the process analysis reveals. I’ve seen Sponsors who tell teams what solutions they want to be implemented right from the get-go.

How do you stick with analysis long enough to find the smoking gun? The trick is to keep collecting the clues in the Cause & Effect Diagram , aka The “Fishbone Diagram”. It’s an aptly named tool, popularized by Dr. Ishikawa , which resembles a fish skeleton. Its construction allows teams to develop root cause theories around a problem as they build their knowledge of the process.

Each time they collect data, interview process participants on a Gemba Walk or map the process steps, they uncover potential reasons for defects. Making the most of the Fishbone Diagram is key but, during a poll, users reported where they fell short.

lean six sigma fishbone diagram

Solutions masquerading as problems

Over a third of respondents reported the issues of “listing solutions” on the Fishbone instead of causes. What we hear are phrases like, “the root cause is a lack of training”.

The problem with “lack of” anything is that it’s a sneaky way of putting a solution on the Fishbone.

The question is, “what is the training addressing?” Is it lack of user knowledge? If that’s the problem, could it be solved with helpful visuals, a simpler process? There are a lot of ways to address user knowledge before jumping to more employee training.

This is when you want to behave like the persistent detective – think Columbo, the classic 70’s TV icon. Every question helps you accumulate clues. People working through the process may have the answer without knowing it. The trick is to keep looking upstream until you find potential culprits. Dig past the symptoms.

To help with this phase, the checklist includes both a Fishbone Diagram Template as well as a video on how to get the most out of the Fishbone.

The Improve Phase is a long-anticipated step in the journey. It’s the step teams generally want to jump to from the start. Testing countermeasures, piloting solutions, watching the problem disappear, that’s the fun of process improvement. If you’ve done a proper job of Define, Measure, and Analyze, this phase falls nicely into place.

The ripple effect

The catch? Unintended consequences.

If you toss a stone into a lake you can see the ripples flow out from the center. The same principle holds true for process change. If you remove a step, change a form, skip an approval , will things fall apart? For that, we look to the Failure Modes & Effects Analysis or FMEA for short.

It’s a methodical way of assessing the potential for things to go wrong. It Involves deciding the potential severity and frequency of future problems and then mistake-proofing the process to prevent them. The technique originated at NASA since they couldn’t risk trial and error when sending men to the moon. By thinking through the risks of change they developed the kind of contingency plans you saw on display in movies like Apollo 13.

That’s why there’s an FMEA Template and a video on how to use it tucked into the main checklist from this post.

It’s okay to make changes. It’s simply key to think through the impact of those changes on other parts of the business.

Process Improvement can happen quickly and have a dramatic impact, but it’s critical to “stick the landing.” The Control Phase exists to see the improvement through to stability.

If teams move on and everyone takes their eyes off the ball, things may start to slip. What they need is the ability to continuously see the performance of the new process.

Sticking the landing

Have you ever tried to watch a game without a scoreboard? How would you know who was winning? Or how much time was left?

It’s the same with process work.

How does your team know how they’re doing? How do you stay aware of how the new process is performing?

By making the data visible.

Keeping an eye on Process Performance can be done with a single metric — you need to focus on one thing. If the goal was to reduce defects, then the single metric would be tracking the daily percentage of defects. A great way to measure success is with a Control Chart.

Control Charts are time charts. You might know them as Line Charts or Run Charts. They include a measure of variation so they are often referred to as “Run Charts that went to college”. They can be created in Excel , but they can also be drawn by hand.

Teams often set up whiteboards in the shared workspace to track things like defects. People can rotate responsibility for updating the chart. If people can see the measure and are responsible for it—they pay attention to it. What gets measured gets managed.

The Control Chart Template is embedded in the checklist for the Control Phase.

Process Improvement is a mainstay of Operational Excellence and checklists are simple but effective ways to make sure you get the outcomes you want. The following quote comes from the interim CEO/President of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence ( AME ).

“ I am a big fan of checklists for ensuring quality at the source. They serve an important purpose in reminding us of all that’s needed in a particular process or project. Without checklists, we risk missing or overlooking something by mistake. Checklists work best when ticking off items as they are completed, not en masse once the entire project is done. The key point is to use and follow them, not “pencil-whip” them from memory after the fact. While not foolproof, checklists can help us cover the details and result in more thorough, successful improvement efforts. ” – Jerry Wright , President, AME

Checklists have transformed healthcare, aviation, and countless other industries. Run this Process Street DMAIC Tollgate Checklist and make sure your next improvement effort gets great results.

Process Street is a powerful piece of workflow software that lets you crush the human error in your organization.

By creating process templates (like the free DMAIC checklist in this post) you can give your whole team a central location for them to see what they have to do, and how exactly they should do it.

No more confusion, no more errors.

Take advantage of our powerful feature set to create superpowered checklists, including:

  • Form fields
  • Conditional logic
  • Variable user permission levels
  • Exporting and printing templates
  • And much, much more!

Check out our intro webinar to see the app in action!

Stop leaving the success of your processes up to chance. Get started with a free trial of Process Street today!

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six sigma problem solving methods

Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street , and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing . Find him on Twitter here .

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The Easy Guide to Solving Problems with Six Sigma DMAIC Method


The most commonly used methodology in Six Sigma is the DMAIC process. Many use it to solve problems and identify and fix errors in business and manufacturing processes.

In this post, we will look at how to use the DMAIC process to solve problems. You will also find useful and editable templates that you can use right away when implementing DMAIC problem-solving in your organization.

  • What are 5 the Steps of Six Sigma

DMAIC Process and Problem-Solving

Common mistakes to avoid when using six sigma dmaic methodology, how to use the dmaic methodology for problem solving in project management, what are the 5 steps of six sigma.

DMAIC is one of the core methodologies used within the Six Sigma framework. It is a data-driven method used to systematically improve the process. The approach aims to increase the quality of a product or service by focusing on optimizing the process that produces the output. This way DMAIC seeks to provide permanent solutions when it comes to process improvement.

It provides a structured problem-solving framework to identify, analyze, and improve existing processes. DMAIC guides practitioners through a series of steps to identify the root causes of process issues, implement solutions, and sustain the improvements over time.

DMIC-template- to solve 6 sigma problems

Following we have listed down the 5 phases of the DMAIC process along with the steps you need to take when using it to solve problems. Different tools for each phase is provided with editable templates.

Step 1: Define the Problem

So there’s a problem that affects your customer or your company processes. In this first step of the DMAIC problem solving method , you need to focus on what the problem is and how it has affected you as a company.

There are a few steps you need to follow in this phase.

• Create a problem statement which should include a definition of the problem in quantifiable terms and the severity of the problem.

•  Make sure necessary resources such as a team leader and competent team members, and funds etc. are available at hand.

•  Develop a goal statement based on your problem statement. It should be a measurable and time-bound target to achieve.

•  Create a SIPOC diagram which will provide the team with a high-level overview of the process (along with its inputs, outputs, suppliers, and customers) that is being analyzed. You can also use a value stream map to do the same job.

SPIOC-template- to solve 6 sigma problems

•  Try to understand the process in more in-depth detail by creating a process map that outlines all process steps. Involve the process owners when identifying the process steps and developing the map. You can add swimlanes to represent different departments and actors responsible.

Flowchart template for DMAIC

Step 2: Measure the Problem

In this step, you should measure the extent of the problem. To do so you need to examine the process in its current state to see how it performs. The detailed process map you created in the ‘Define’ phase can help you with this.

The baseline measurements you will need to look into in this phase, are process duration, the number of defects, costs and other relevant metrics.

These baseline measurements will be used as the standards against which the team will measure their success in the ‘Improve’ phase.

Step 3: Analyze the Problem

The analyze phase of the DMAIC process is about identifying the root cause that is causing the problem.

•  Referring to the process maps and value stream maps you have created, further, analyze the process to identify the problem areas.

Flowchart template for DMAIC -

•  Visualize the data you have collected (both in the ‘Measure’ phase and the analyze phase) to identify signs of problems in the processes.

•  Use Pareto charts, histograms, run charts etc. to represent numerical data. Study them with team leaders and process owners to identify patterns.

Pareto Chart Template- To solve problems with 6 Sigma

•  With the results of your process analysis and your data analysis, start brainstorming the root causes of the problem. Use a cause and effect diagram/ fishbone diagram to capture the knowledge of the process participants during the session.

Cause and effect diagram

 •  Using a 5 whys diagram, narrow down your findings to the last few causes of the problem in your process.

5 whys template  for dmaic

Step 4: Improve (Solve the Problem)

In this phase, the focus is on mitigating the root cause identified and brainstorming and implementing solutions. The team will also collect data to measure their improvement against the data collected during the ‘Measure’ phase.

•  You may generate several effective solutions to the root cause, but implementing them all would not be practical. Therefore, you will have to select the most practical solutions.

To do this you can use an impact effort matrix . It will help you determine which solution has the best impact and the least effort/ cost.

Impact-Effort Matrix- For 6 Sigma analysis

 • Based on different solutions, you should develop new maps that will reflect the status of the process once the solution has been applied. This map is known as the to-be map or the future-state map. It will provide guidance for the team as they implement changes.

•  Explore the different solutions using the PDCA cycle and select the best one to implement.  The cycle allows you to systematically study the possible solutions, evaluate the results and select the ones that have a higher chance of success.

PDCA template- to conduct 6-sigma analysis

Step 5: Control (Sustain the Improvements)

In the final phase of the DMAIC method , the focus falls on maintaining the improvements you have gained by implementing the solutions. Here you should continue to measure the success and create a plan to monitor the improvements (a Monitoring plan).

You should also create a Response plan which includes steps to take if there’s a drop in the process performance. With new process maps and other documentation, you should then proceed to document the improved processes.

Hand these documents along with the Monitoring plan and the response plan to the process owners for their reference.

Insufficiently defining the problem can lead to a lack of clarity regarding the problem statement, objectives, and scope. Take the time to clearly define the problem, understand the desired outcomes, and align stakeholders' expectations.

Failing to engage key stakeholders throughout the DMAIC process can result in limited buy-in and resistance to change. Ensure that stakeholders are involved from the beginning, seeking their input, addressing concerns, and keeping them informed about progress and outcomes.

Collecting insufficient or inaccurate data can lead to flawed analysis and incorrect conclusions. Take the time to gather relevant data using appropriate measurement systems, ensure data accuracy and reliability, and apply appropriate statistical analysis techniques to derive meaningful insights.

Getting caught up in analysis paralysis without taking action is a common pitfall. While analysis is crucial, it’s equally important to translate insights into concrete improvement actions. Strive for a balance between analysis and implementation to drive real change.

Failing to test potential solutions before implementation can lead to unintended consequences. Utilize methods such as pilot studies, simulation, or small-scale experiments to validate and refine proposed solutions before full-scale implementation.

Successful process improvement is not just about making initial changes ; it’s about sustaining those improvements over the long term. Develop robust control plans, standard operating procedures, and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the gains achieved are maintained and deviations are identified and corrected.

Applying DMAIC in a one-size-fits-all manner without considering the organization’s unique culture, context, and capabilities can hinder success. Tailor the approach to fit the specific needs, capabilities, and culture of the organization to enhance acceptance and implementation.

In the project management context, the Define phase involves clearly defining the project objectives, scope, deliverables, and success criteria. It entails identifying project stakeholders, understanding their expectations, and establishing a project charter or a similar document that outlines the project’s purpose and key parameters.

The Measure phase focuses on collecting data and metrics to assess the project’s progress, performance, and adherence to schedule and budget. Key project metrics such as schedule variance, cost variance, and resource utilization are tracked and analyzed. This phase provides insights into the project’s current state and helps identify areas that require improvement.

The Analyze phase involves analyzing the project data and identifying root causes of any performance gaps or issues. It aims to understand why certain project aspects are not meeting expectations. Techniques such as root cause analysis, Pareto charts, or fishbone diagrams can be used to identify factors impacting project performance.

In the Improve phase, potential solutions and actions are developed and implemented to address the identified issues. This may involve making adjustments to the project plan, reallocating resources, refining processes, or implementing corrective measures. The goal is to optimize project performance and achieve desired outcomes.

The Control phase focuses on monitoring and controlling project activities to sustain the improvements made. It involves implementing project control mechanisms, establishing performance metrics, and conducting regular reviews to ensure that the project remains on track. Control measures help prevent deviations from the plan and enable timely corrective actions.

What are Your Thoughts on DMAIC Problem Solving Method?

Here we have covered the 5 phases of  Six Sigma DMAIC and the tools that you can use in each stage. You can use them to identify problem areas in your organizational processes, generate practical solutions and implement them effectively.

Have you used DMAIC process to improve processes and solve problems in your organization? Share your experience with the tool with us in the comment section below.

Also, check our post on Process Improvement Methodologies to learn about more Six Sigma and Lean tools to streamline your processes.

Join over thousands of organizations that use Creately to brainstorm, plan, analyze, and execute their projects successfully.

FAQs about Six Sigma and DMAIC Approaches

DMAIC and DMADV are two methodologies used in Six Sigma. DMAIC is employed to enhance existing processes by addressing issues and improving efficiency, while DMADV is utilized for creating new processes or products that meet specific customer needs by following a structured design and verification process.

  • Used for improving existing processes
  • Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
  • Identifies problem areas and implements solutions
  • Focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing efficiency
  • Used for developing new products, services, or processes
  • Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify
  • Emphasizes meeting customer requirements and creating innovative solutions
  • Involves detailed design and verification through testing

Problem identification : When a process is not meeting desired outcomes or experiencing defects, DMAIC can be used to identify and address the root causes of the problem.

Process optimization : DMAIC provides a systematic approach to analyze and make improvements to processes by reducing waste, improving cycle time, or enhancing overall efficiency.

Continuous improvement : DMAIC is often used as part of ongoing quality management efforts. It helps organizations maintain a culture of continuous improvement by systematically identifying and addressing process issues, reducing variation, and striving for better performance.

Data-driven decision making : DMAIC relies on data collection, measurement, and analysis. It is suitable when there is sufficient data available to evaluate process performance and identify areas for improvement.

Quality control and defect reduction : DMAIC is particularly useful when the primary objective is to reduce defects, minimize errors, and enhance product or service quality. By analyzing the root causes of defects, improvements can be made to prevent their occurrence.

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Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.

Six Sigma Implementation

Six sigma simplified: understanding its principles for business excellence.

Six Sigma Principles

Six Sigma is a set of management techniques developed by American engineer Bill Smith in 1986 while working at Motorola to boost the company’s profits. In the first 20 years alone, this data-driven approach to quality control saved Motorola $17 billion. Many Fortune 500 companies, such as General Electric, Microsoft, and Honeywell, have hired and trained employees and consultants with a Six Sigma certification to drive significant cost savings.

The method’s principles harmonize organizational improvement, seamlessly orchestrating data-driven precision, process optimization, and relentless pursuit of improved quality. Six Sigma principles work synergistically to enhance and transform organizations into agile, high-performing entities, achieving harmony between excellence and continuous improvement. By significantly reducing the probability of error or defect, organizations use Six Sigma to deliver high-quality products and services in the most efficient way possible.

Over time, Six Sigma absorbed elements of Lean manufacturing, which greatly enhanced the methodology and created “Lean Six Sigma.” Now, if you look at the Six Sigma White Belt Body of Knowledge, it includes most of the key lean concepts.

On this page:

Six Core Principles of Six Sigma

Six sigma methodologies.

Data-driven decision-making sits at the heart of Six Sigma. Organizations collect and analyze data to identify root causes of problems and make informed decisions about process improvements. Data tells us why a process works (or why it doesn’t). With this information, organizations can improve their offerings to meet customer needs better.

  • Improve Customer Satisfaction
  • Process Focus
  • Remove Variation from Process
  • Involve and Equip the People in the Process
  • Make Systematic Decisions Based on Data
  • Aim for Continuous Improvement

1. Improve Customer Satisfaction

The ultimate goal of Six Sigma is delivering business value as defined by the customer. That means enhancing customer satisfaction by consistently delivering products or services that meet or exceed customer expectations. To do that, teams analyze processes for potential improvement, quantify the costs, and determine if the benefits warrant the investment.

This principle strongly emphasizes understanding customer needs and expectations . By gathering customer requirements, preferences, and feedback data, organizations can align their processes to deliver products or services that satisfy customers.

2. Process Focus

Detailed process mapping plays a crucial role in the success of Six Sigma initiatives by providing a comprehensive understanding of the current state of processes and facilitating targeted improvements. Six Sigma professionals use graphs and flow charts to illustrate the details of the process and guide them in decision-making. This visual breakdown makes identifying strengths and weaknesses in a current process easier by pinpointing the performance of specific steps.

To create a process map , you must first define the process focus and then outline the major steps and stages from beginning to end. Bring together people from different departments involved so you can get the whole picture. Document each input, output, and the flow of materials or information from one step to the next. As the team collects data

3. Remove Variation from Processes

Six Sigma looks at two types of process variation : special cause variation and common cause (natural) variation . Common cause variation refers to the inherent variability in a process over time, such as fluctuations in materials, environmental conditions, equipment performance, or operator behavior. Special cause variation refers to variability in a process caused by specific identifiable factors or events that are not part of the usual, stable operation of the process. These factors are usually external or are some anomaly or error that disrupts the normal function of a process.

Six Sigma relies on statistical process control (SPC) to understand and manage real-time variability in processes. Control charts monitor process performance and detect the presence of special cause variation, allowing organizations to take corrective actions and maintain process stability. Additionally, DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), a structured problem-solving methodology, provides a systematic approach to identify, analyze, and mitigate sources of variation, leading to more stable and predictable process performance. We’ll explore this more in the next section.

4. Involve and Equip the People in the Process

Seasoned pros often say Six Sigma projects will only succeed if the organization has buy-in from the top down. That means the whole team needs to be involved and trained in the Six Sigma discipline to assume their appropriate role in each project. Just like a band of musicians needs to be in rhythm and harmony together, every role in a Six Sigma project is crucial to its success.

Roles and Responsibilities Within a Six Sigma Project:

  • Executives : Establish the focus of Six Sigma within the overall organizational goals
  • Champion : Communicate the organization’s vision, mission, and goals to create an organizational deployment plan and identify individual projects.
  • Master Black Belt : Oversee an organization’s whole Six Sigma program and is the primary internal consultant. Train and coach Black Belts and Green Belts and develop key metrics and strategic direction.
  • Black Belt : Run individual projects and manage Green and Yellow Belts.
  • Green Belt : Assist with data collection and analysis
  • Yellow Belt : Acts as a support person for the project team.
  • White Belt : Support Six Sigma projects as needed but are not necessarily part of the project team.

six sigma problem solving methods

5. Make Systematic Decisions Based on Data

Six Sigma uses verifiable data and statistics to make decisions that can help organizations achieve measurable profit gains. It uses data to tangibly improve the quality of products and services, increasing customer satisfaction while reducing costs. A Six Sigma project aims to create a process that is 99.99966% free of defects (or to have fewer than 3.4 errors in one million opportunities).

Both quantitative and qualitative data are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of process performance. You can only remove variations and defects knowing the whole picture. Quantitative analysis provides objective, statistical insights into process performance and variation. In contrast, qualitative data analysis complements this by offering a deeper contextual understanding and insights into human behaviors and organizational dynamics.

6. Aim for Continuous Improvement

Six Sigma remains effective nearly forty years later because it emphasizes sustained improvement. Organizations that use Six Sigma don’t just fix a process and move on. They continue monitoring process improvements and make small, incremental changes to ensure they always perform at their best. Continuous improvement is especially important as technology continues to advance rapidly, thereby constantly introducing new opportunities to increase efficiency and quality.

To maintain momentum in Six Sigma initiatives, senior leadership has to remain fully committed to the Six Sigma program and actively support improvement efforts. It is critical to ingrain continuous improvement into your organizational culture, values, and practices and reward employees who contribute to process excellence and innovation.

Two methods are critical to the success of every Six Sigma project. The first is the DMAIC approach to problem-solving (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control). DMAIC projects, which typically last about four months, are used to improve existing business processes. This five-step method includes the following stages:

  • Define : Identify the problem, the improvement opportunity, the project goals, and internal and external customer requirements. Then, teams can move on and create a map illustrating how they will fix the issue.
  • Measure : Collect data and quantify the problem to measure performance and evaluate improvement.
  • Analyze : Use the data to investigate and understand the variables impacting the problem to determine what drives the defect at the center of the project.
  • Improve : Run experiments to learn how to implement the desired improvements and eliminate the underlying cause of the defect.
  • Control : Measure performance to ensure the newly improved process is successful. If any deviations from the previously targeted improvements need correction, create a quality control plan to maintain the process improvements.

six sigma problem solving methods

The second project methodology is Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify ( DMADV ) for projects creating a new product or process or dramatically overhauling an existing one. DMADV includes the same first three steps as DMAIC but changes the last two to Design and Verify. 

  • Design : Create high-level designs for the new process or product so the team can identify unforeseen errors and make additional modifications as necessary.
  • Verify : Review the new implementation with stakeholders to verify its effectiveness once deployed.

six sigma problem solving methods

Six Sigma continues to influence business strategies by promoting cultures of continuous improvement, data-driven decision-making, and customer-centricity. It has kept pace with the digital age by evolving to Lean Six Sigma so organizations can continue optimizing products and services in the digital age. Industries will continue to change, but Six Sigma principles will remain. Organizations need trained experts with a Six Sigma certification ready to drive efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction.

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six sigma problem solving methods

The History of Six Sigma

Originally developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, the Six Sigma Training program was created using some of the most innovative quality improvement methods from the preceding six decades. The term “Six Sigma” is derived from a field of statistics known as process capability. The term 6 Sigma refers to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with “six sigma quality” over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma’s goal is to improve overall processes to that level of quality or better.

Lean Six Sigma

8 minute read

Lean Six Sigma Tools and Techniques You Need to Know

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

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Some businesses aspire for transformation, others make it happen. Many of those who succeed at driving change — including most Fortune 100 companies — do so by applying the principles and processes of Lean Six Sigma .

Want to learn more about the Lean Six Sigma methodology?

Check out this ebook that will guide you through the key concepts of LSS.

Developed to sustain customer satisfaction and deliver high-quality output, Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement method that harnesses teamwork to systematically boost operational efficiencies and reduce waste. Lean Six Sigma evolved from the fusion of two related disciplines — lean manufacturing and Six Sigma — that have successfully achieved dramatic improvements in the profitability of organizations across different industries.

So let's go over Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques you need to know.

As a data-driven method, Lean Six Sigma uses precise tools and techniques to identify challenges, solve problems, and attain business goals. For the most part, these tools and techniques relate to specific stages in the improvement cycle denoted as DMAIC (Define, Measure , Analyze, Improve, Control).


20+ powerful tools and techniques in Lean Six Sigma

Many of the techniques and tools used by Lean Six Sigma practitioners have been around well before the process improvement method was formalized. Many were used in business analysis, relationship visualizations, project management , and other fields. The effectivity of specific tools and techniques depends heavily on their fitness when it comes to an organization’s unique situation, business model, and corporate culture.


Failure Mode & Effects Analysis ( FMEA ) - A model that helps professionals analyze and prioritize weaknesses and potential defects of a design or process based on factors such as severity and frequency of occurrence.

Process Flow Charts - A commonly used visual aid that shows the steps or stages of a process. This top-level diagram lends clarity to an improvement project and brings everyone on the same page.

Project Charter - A document primarily used in project management that sets the parameters of a process improvement project. While a project charter plays a major role in the Define phase of DMAIC, it also serves as a tool in the Control stage.

RACI Matrix - Acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. This matrix outlines all the roles and responsibilities related to every activity/task in a process or project.

TAKT Time - The rate (expressed in time units) at which a business needs to complete a product to meet customer demand.

  • Value Stream Map - A very detailed type of process flow chart that visualizes all the steps in a process that are required to deliver value from start to finish. It is originally a lean management tool for mapping all the activities needed to create a product and get it into the hands of the end-customer.


Histogram - A bar chart that shows frequency distribution or variation in a data set. It is often used to a) identify which factors contribute most to the occurrence of a problem, and b) determine the capability of a process to consistently generate an acceptable output.

  • Pareto Chart - A histogram that shows the relative significance/impact of defects or variances in a system. It helps determine where the bulk of defects occur, effectively clarifying the cause and effect of problems and identifying the specific area that needs improvement the most.


5 Whys Analysis - A straightforward method for determining the root cause of a problem. The method prescribes asking “why” a problem occurs five times in succession to sift through mere symptoms and eventually zero in on the real factor that causes the problem.

Design of Experiments - A systematic technique for testing the relationships between different factors with the purpose of creating the best-case design (i.e., optimal performance of features and functions) for a process or system.

Fishbone Diagram - A visualization technique for mapping all possible causes of a problem based on logical categories, with the aim of identifying root causes. Also called cause-and-effect or Ishikawa diagram, fishbone diagrams are often used during brainstorming sessions.

Regression Analysis - A statistical tool for understanding the relationship between output and input variables, and making predictions based on the relationship.


5S - A five-step method for keeping workplaces orderly and for motivating workers to maintain discipline and optimal process/workflow conditions. The term originally referred to five Japanese words whose English equivalents are Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

A3 Process/Report - A systematic approach to solving problems and driving continuous improvement that is typically documented/simplified/visualized on a sheet of A3-size paper, hence the name.

Kanban - A graphical scheduling system named after the Japanese terms for “visual” (kan) and “card” or “board” (ban). The system is designed to optimize the production process by reducing idle time and inventory.

Kaizen - A mindset of continuous improvement. It holds that everything can undergo incremental improvements over time. Kaizen advocates for proactive teamwork and the elimination of waste.

  • Poka Yoke (Error-Proofing) - A mistake prevention approach that aims to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, and signaling the occurrence of human errors as they happen. Named after the Japanese terms for “error” and “machine operator,” poka-yoke refers to any mechanism in a process that reduces the frequency of mistakes, with the ultimate goal of enabling people and processes to get things right the first time.

Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) - A method associated with lean manufacturing that reduces the time it takes to run the current product to run the next. It is used to accelerate cycle time, reduce costs, and enhance the adaptability of processes. Also called Quick Changeover.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) - a methodology for maintaining and improving the quality of systems, processes, and machines. TPM specifically aims to reduce loses that are incurred when unplanned downtime occurs.


Control Charts - A time-based visualization that is used to monitor and improve quality. Control charts are major tools used in statistical process control. Also called the process behavior chart.

Standardized Work - A baseline concept in kaizen or continuous improvement that is used as a tool for keeping productivity and quality at optimum levels. Standardized work documents the current best practice. When a new and improved system is adopted, it becomes the new standardized work.

Statistical Process Control ( SPC ) - A methodology that uses statistical tools to monitor, control, and improve the quality of processes.


Lean Six Sigma is an evolving field whose tools and techniques continue to reap tremendous benefits for business organizations (process improvements and uplift in profitability) as well as certified practitioners (professional credentials, career advancement, and salary raises). 

Our Lean Six Sigma Overview and Glossary will help accelerate your understanding of the different concepts and processes in the field. If you want to learn more about the tools mentioned in this article and how best to use them, you can check out our library of Lean Six Sigma courses and certification programs.

Remember, Lean Six Sigma is not just a highly organized and effective collection of tools and methodologies. It is also a habit that sets excellence and continuous improvement as your default mode.

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Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue wears his writer's hat wherever he goes, crafting top-notch content on business, technology, creativity, and innovation. He is also a dreamer, builder, father, and gamer.

How Online Learning Can Help You Grow Professionally (and Personally)


How Online Learning Can Help You Grow Professionally (and Personally)

To grow professionally doesn’t just mean climbing the corporate ladder. Explore four ways online learning fosters professional, and even personal, growth.

Process Improvement Skills Boil Down to These 3 Elements

Process Improvement Skills Boil Down to These 3 Elements

How can you tell someone has process improvement skills? It really comes down to a combination of three important factors.

The Basics of Gage R&R

The Basics of Gage R&R

Gage Repeatability and Reproducibility studies (Gage R&R) are a type of Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA). This tutorial walks you through the basics.

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six sigma problem solving methods

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  • Six Sigma: All you need to know about t ...

Six Sigma: All you need to know about the lean methodology

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

Six Sigma is a process improvement method that helps organizations improve their business processes. The end goal of Six Sigma is to reduce the amount of variations in a process as much as possible in order to prevent defects within your product. While this methodology is often used to optimize manufacturing processes, it can also be applied to other industries—including tech companies who produce digital products rather than physical ones.

Imagine your development team is in the process of putting the final touches together for a big product launch. When the product gets to the testing stage, the team catches several unanticipated bugs in the code. How can your team prevent this from happening in the future?

One way to do this is to implement an old manufacturing tool: the Six Sigma methodology.

What is Six Sigma?

The main philosophy of Six Sigma is that all processes can be defined, measured, analyzed, improved, and controlled (commonly referred to as the DMAIC method).

According to Six Sigma, all processes require inputs and outputs. Inputs are the actions that your team performs, and the outputs are the effects of those actions. The main idea is that if you can control as many inputs (or actions) as possible, you also control the outputs. 

Where does Six Sigma come from?

In 1809 , German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss first used the famous bell curve to explain measurement errors. In the 1920s , Walter Shewhart found that three sigma from the mean is the precise point where a process needs to be corrected. 

But it wasn’t until 1986 that the engineer and developer Bill Smith created the Six Sigma methodology for Motorola that we know today. Motorola used the methodology to identify the maturity of a process by its “sigma” rating, which indicates the percentage of products that are defect-free.

By definition, a Six Sigma process is one in which fewer than 3.4 defects per million opportunities occur. In other words, 99.9997% of opportunities are statistically expected to be free of defects.

Six Sigma is still commonly used in lean manufacturing and production because the process can be helpful in preventing and eliminating defects. However, this methodology can also be used in the service industry and with software engineering teams.

Lean Six Sigma

In general, the goal of a lean methodology is to drive out waste or anything that doesn’t add value to a product or process. The Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology values defect prevention over defect detection. This means that the goal of LSS is not to identify where the defect is, but to prevent defects from happening in the first place. 

The 5 key principles of Six Sigma

The Six Sigma methodology has five key principles you can use when analyzing your processes.

1. Focus on the customer

In Six Sigma, the goal is to ensure you can provide your customers with as much value as possible. This means your team should spend a lot of time identifying who your customers are, what their needs are, and what drives their behavior to purchase products. This principle works well for SaaS companies since they often focus on recurring revenue streams.

Identifying your customer’s wants and needs can help your team better understand how to retain customers and keep them coming back to your product.

This requires your team to understand the quality of product your customers would find acceptable, so you can meet or even exceed their expectations. Once you understand that level of quality, you can use it as a benchmark for production. 

2. Use data to find where variation occurs

Outline all of the steps of your current production process. Once you’ve done this, analyze and gather data on the current process to see if there are certain areas that can be optimized or areas that are causing a bottleneck in your workflow.

For example, consider how you share information with your team. Is everyone on your team getting the same information, or are they referencing outdated documents? Establishing a centralized location for all pertinent project information can help minimize the amount of time spent searching for the right documents.

Sometimes it can be challenging to decide what metrics you need to analyze. An easy way to figure this out is by working backward. Identify a goal you want to achieve and work back from there. For example, if your goal is to shorten production time, analyze how long each step in the production process takes.

3. Continuously improve your process

While you’re looking at your production process, consider any steps that don’t add value for your team or your end customers. Use tools such as value stream mapping to identify where you can streamline processes and decrease the amount of bottlenecks. 

The idea of making small improvements to your processes over time is known as kaizen , or continuous improvement. The philosophy behind continuous improvement is that if you’re making small changes over a long period of time, it can lead to major positive changes in the long run.

4. Get everyone involved

Six Sigma is a methodology that allows everyone on the team to contribute. However, this does require everyone on the team to have some training on the Six Sigma process to reduce the risk of creating more blockers instead of getting rid of them. 

Six Sigma works especially well when cross-functional teams are involved, because it provides a holistic view of how a process can affect all parts of your business. When you include representatives from all teams involved in a process, you give everyone insight into the improvements you’re making and how those changes might impact their teams.

We’ll dive into the different types of Six Sigma trainings and certifications later in this article.

5. Ensure a flexible and responsive ecosystem

Six Sigma is all about creating positive change for your customers. This means you should consistently look for ways to improve your processes, and your entire team should stay flexible so they can pivot without much disturbance.

This also means that processes need to be easily interchangeable. An easy way to do this is to break out processes into steps. If there’s an issue with just one step, then only that step needs to be fixed, as opposed to the entire process. 

The two main Six Sigma methodologies

There are two common processes within Six Sigma and they’re each used in different situations.

In general, the DMAIC method is the standard method to optimize existing processes. Alternatively, use the DMADV method when a process is not yet established and you need to create one.

DMAIC is an acronym, meaning each letter represents a step in the process. DMAIC stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.

[inline illustration] The DMAIC method (infographic)

Define the system. Identify your ideal customer profile, including your customers’ wants and needs. During this stage you also want to identify the goals of your entire project as a whole.

Measure key aspects of current processes. Using the goals you established in the “define” stage, benchmark your current processes and use that data to inform how you want to optimize your project.

Analyze the process. Determine any root causes of problems and identify how variations are formed.

Improve or optimize your process. Based on the analysis from the previous step, create a new future state process. This means you should create a sample of the improved process and test it in a separate environment to see how it performs.

Control the future state process. If the results in the “improve” stage are up to your team’s standards, implement this new process into your current workflow. When doing this, it’s important to try and control as many variables as possible. This is often done using statistical process control or continuous monitoring.

DMAIC example

Your product team notices that the customer churn rate (the rate at which customers stop doing business with you) is increasing. To prevent this problem from getting worse, you can use the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology to identify the issue and develop a solution. 

Define: The customer churn rate has increased from 3% to 7% in the last six months.

Measure: Your team has a lot of information about how prospective customers convert into actual customers, but there’s not much information about what happens after someone becomes a customer. You decide to analyze and measure user behavior after they purchase the product.

Analyze: After looking at the behavior of users after they become customers, your team notices that newer customers are having a harder time getting used to the new product UI than existing customers.

Improve: Your team decides to implement a “new customer onboarding” workflow that helps customers identify key parts of the product and how to use it. Your team works with the customer success team to help set best practices and create trainings. This gives the customer success team all the information they need to train new customers effectively and ensure customer satisfaction. 

Control: Your team monitors both the churn rate and how customers are behaving now that the changes have been implemented. After a few months, you notice the churn rate beginning to decrease again, so you choose to keep the new changes to the process.

The DMADV method is sometimes referred to as Design for Six Sigma (DFSS). DMADV stands for define, measure, analyze, design, and verify. Here’s what to do during each phase:

Define your goals. When defining goals for the new process you’re establishing, it’s important to consider both business goals and the goals of your ideal customer profile. 

Measure and identify CTQs. CTQ stands for “critical to quality.” These are the characteristics that define your perfect product. During this step you will identify how your new process can help achieve these CTQs and any potential risks that could impact quality.

Analyze to develop and design multiple options. When you’re designing a new production process, it’s important to have multiple options. Take a look at the different options you create and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each one. 

Design the chosen option. Based on the analysis in the previous step, take the next step and implement the option that best fits your needs. 

Verify the design and set up pilot runs. Once you finish implementing your process, it’s time to hand it over to process owners and measure how the process works. Once the process is up and running, then your team can optimize it using the DMAIC method. 

Six Sigma certification

Six Sigma is a multi-level training program . Much like in martial arts, each ranking is a different belt color that indicates a different body of knowledge and years of experience. The Six Sigma certification program breaks down into six different rankings—from white belt to champion:

[inline illustration] Six Sigma levels (infographic)

White Belt : If you’re brand-new to the Six Sigma method, you’ll start out in this stage. Someone with a Six Sigma White Belt doesn’t need to have any formal training or certification in Six Sigma, but they understand the basic framework and guidelines. This means they can participate in waste reduction and quality control projects. 

Yellow Belt : This level requires some formal training and you can receive an official Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification. With a Yellow Belt you can help contribute to strategy more than you could with a White Belt. You can now assist higher-ups with problem solving and analysis.

Green Belt : With a Six Sigma Green Belt certification, you can start strategizing and implementing smaller process improvement techniques on your own.

Black Belt : Once you receive the Black Belt certification, you will be able to break down processes and handle more complex projects than any previous belts. In this training, you’re taught how to manage large-scale changes that can impact a business’s bottom line.

Master Black Belt : The Six Sigma Master Black Belt is an additional course that helps you enhance your current skills by deepening your understanding of Lean Six Sigma. You’ll learn more about statistical tools and cultivate a greater appreciation for the DMAIC method.

Champion : You can become a Six Sigma Champion with a final training that is typically helpful for senior managers and executives who want to become proficient in guiding project teams and leaders through the different DMAIC phases. 

While there is no unified standard for certification, the courses are designed to teach the essentials of the process and how to apply Six Sigma tools to your day-to-day work situations.

Track and improve workflows with Six Sigma

Improving your business processes ultimately helps reduce waste. As you brainstorm and analyze workflows, take time to pinpoint and address bottlenecks . Visualize each step in your production process so you can assign them to specific owners.

If you’re looking to improve your team’s workflows , it’s best to use software that helps connect your team and manage goals. Asana workflows can help you manage and automate how work is completed. Plus, you can easily alert other team members of workflow changes, make real-time adjustments, and create a single source of truth for your entire team.

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DMAIC Model | The 5 Phase DMAIC Process to Problem-Solving

  • 5 mins to read
  • July 1, 2020
  • By Reagan Pannell

Summary: An Introduction to DMAIC

Dmaic – the dmaic model.

The 6 Sigma DMAIC model remains the core roadmap for almost all Lean Six Sigma problem-solving approaches that drive quality improvement projects. It is used to ensure a robust problem-solving process is followed to give the best chance of the best solution being found.

A note about the structure and the approach used in this article.

Our approach to DMAIC follows Quentin Brook’s book “Lean Six Sigma & Minitab” which for anyone wishing to study Lean Six Sigma is a must for the  Green Belt Course  and the  Black Belt Course .

What is the dmaic model.

DMAIC is short for: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. These are the key phases that each project must go through to find the right solution. This flow is the concept behind DMAIC Analysis of an issue and its the DMAIC cycle all projects must go through.

As you can quickly see from the 5 DMAIC phases they follow a logical sequence as we will go through in more detail below. But they also make sure you do not try to jump to implementing a solution before you have properly, defined and measured what you are going to be an improvement.

We all love to jump to solutions, but the DMAIC problem-solving structure helps us have a more rigorous approach so that we do not short cut the process and perhaps miss the best solution or perhaps implement the wrong solution as well. It can help companies better structure their problem-solving approaches and be more robust in their approach. 

DMAIC – The 5 DMAIC Process Phases

The phases throughout the DMAIC model have and can be broken down in many different ways. One of the best approaches we have found is from Opex Resources which shows how to examine the existing processes, and with a project team, and the sigma improvement process, we can solve complex issues.

DMAIC Define Phase

The purpose of the Define phase is ultimately to describe the problems that need to be solved and for the key business decision-makers to be aligned on the goal of the project. Its about creating and agreeing the project charter .

All too often, teams have identified solutions without actually defining what it is they will actually be trying to do or perhaps not do. This can lead to internal confusion and often solutions which completely miss the business requirements and needs.

  • Define the Business Case
  • Understand the Consumer
  • Define The Process
  • Manage the Project
  • Gain Project Approval

DMAIC Measure Phase

In the measure phase, the goal is to collect the relevant information to baseline the current performance of the product or the process. In this stage, we want to identify the level of “defects” or the errors that go wrong and use the baseline to measure our progress throughout the project.

The key goal of this phase is to have a very strong and clear measure/baseline of how things are performing today so that we can always monitor our progress towards our goals. We need to understand our cycle times , process times, quality metrics.

Many projects are delivered without clear benefits being shown because the team never fully baseline the current status before making changes.

The Measure phase can be broken down into 5 key areas:

  • Develop Process Measures
  • Collect Process Data
  • Check the Data Quality
  • Understand Process Behaviour
  • Baseline Process Capability and Potential

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DMAIC Analyse Phase

The goal of the DMAIC Analyse phase with the lean six sigma improvement process is to identify which process inputs or parameters have the most critical effect on the outputs. In other words, we want to identify the root cause(s) so that we know what critical elements we need to fix.

During this phase, the teams need to explore all potential root causes using both analytical approaches, statistical approaches or even graphical tools such as VSM’s and Process maps to uncover the most important elements which need to be changed/fixed.

The Analyse phase can be broken down into:

  • Analyse the Process
  • Develop Theories and Ideas
  • Analyse the Data
  • and finally, Verify Root Causes 

DMAIC Improve Phase

The goal of the improvement phase is to identify a wide range of potential solutions before identifying the critical solutions which will give us the maximum return for our investment and directly fix the root cause we identified.

During this phase, the team brainstorm, pilot, test and validate potential improvement ideas before finally implementing the right solutions. With each pilot, the team can validate how well it improves the key measures they identified back in Define and Measure. When the team finally roll out the solution, the results should be seen if the right solution has been found and implemented correctly.

The Improve phase can be broken down into:

  • Generate Potential Solutions
  • Select the Best Solution
  • Assess the Risks
  • Pilot and Implement

DMAIC Control Phase

The final part of the DMAIC Model is the Control phase where we need to ensure that the new changes become business as normal and we do not revert to the same way of working as before.

During this phase, we want to ensure that we close the project off by validating the project savings and ensuring the new process is correctly documented. We also need to make sure that new measures and process KPI’s are in place and, finally that we get the business champion to sign off on both the project and the savings. We may need to redesign the workplace following the 5S principles .

The Control phase can be broken down into:

  • Implement Ongoing Measurements
  • Standardise Solutions
  • Quantify the Improvement
  • Close The Project

The key closing documents of the Control Phase is a Control Plan that documents all the changes and process steps with key risks, standard work instructions and the Project Close-Out document signed by the business owners to accept the change and the validated benefits.

The DMAIC Model vs. A3 Management vs. 8D Problem Solving

The DMAIC model is not the only project management roadmap. Two others which are important is the A3 format which originally comes from Toyota and is very Lean focused and the 8D which draws more of the DMAIC structure but with the 1-page idea of the A3.

Everyone has their own preference but each method is interchangeable. The DMAIC Structure lends its self naturally to a multi-slide Powerpoint presentation. Whereas the A3 is a single-page document which is perfect for internal communication and adding into War Rooms and Control Towers.

What’s important is that every problem-solving approach follows the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) Scientific Problem Solving format. The reset is just a preference or using the right tool in the right circumstances.

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Reagan Pannell is a highly accomplished professional with 15 years of experience in building lean management programs for corporate companies. With his expertise in strategy execution, he has established himself as a trusted advisor for numerous organisations seeking to improve their operational efficiency.

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six sigma problem solving methods

Six Sigma Basics: DMAIC Like Normal Problem Solving

Published: February 26, 2010 by Chew Jian Chieh

six sigma problem solving methods

What is the usual way most people go about solving problems? Most people and organizations consciously or unconsciously use this method, as illustrated in Table 1 below.

This is not a bad method, provided what one thinks is causing the problem is really causing the problem. In this case, if a person is fat simply because they do not exercise enough and eat too much, then by exercising and eating less, they should weigh less. And if they do lose weight after taking such action, then the theory is validated. People solve a fair number of problems in this manner – using conventional wisdom and gut theories that also happen to be correct. In those cases, there is little need for Six Sigma – it is just a waste of time. Just do the above.

How Six Sigma Problem Solving Is Different

How is the Six Sigma problem-solving methodology different? Actually it is really not so different from how people normally go about solving day-to-day problems, except in Six Sigma, nobody knows what is really causing the problem at the beginning of the project. And because all attempts to solve the problem in the past have failed, largely because conventional wisdom and gut theories were wrong about the cause of that problem, people conclude that the problem cannot be solved.

These types of problems are really the best candidates for Six Sigma. The Six Sigma DMAIC methodology differs from conventional problem solving in one significant way. There is a requirement for proof of cause and effect before improvement action is taken. Proof is required because resources for improvement actions are limited in most organizations. Those limits preclude being able to implement improvement actions based on 100 hunches hoping that one hits the mark. Thus, discovering root causes is at the core of the methodology.

Here are the steps in the DMAIC process:

  • Define phase: Understand what process is to be improved and set a goal.
  • Measure phase: Measure the current state.
  • Analyze phase: a) Develop cause-and-effect theories of what may be causing the problem; b) Search for the real causes of the problem and scientifically prove the cause-and-effect linkage
  • Improve phase: Take action.
  • Control phase: a) Measure to verify improvement has taken place; b) Take actions to sustain the gains.

Using a More Mathematical Language

The above steps can be phrase in another way – using more mathematical language (Table 2). (This kind of mathematical language should not put anyone off. If it is a concern initially, a person just needs to remember than whenever a Y shows up in any sentence, just replace it with word “effect,” or the phrase “outcome performance measure.” And whenever an X shows up , just replace it with the word “cause.”)

The key assumption in Six Sigma is this: If the true causes of any problem can discovered, then by controlling or removing the causes, the problem can be reduced or removed. Now is that not just common sense?

A Series of Common Sense Questions

In summary, Six Sigma DMAIC methodology is really just a series of common sense questions that one asks in order to solve any problem and eventually sustain the gains that come from solving the problem.

  • Define: What is the Y that is not doing well?
  • Measure: What is Y’s current performance?
  • Analyze: What are the potential Xs? What are the real Xs?
  • Improve: How can the real Xs be controlled or eliminated?
  • Control: How can the Xs continue to be controlled to sustain the gains in Y?

Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology is nothing but a search for the real causes of problems. With this understanding, what remains for those learning Six Sigma are the various tools and techniques used to answer these questions.

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Chew Jian Chieh

Six Sigma Daily

What is Six Sigma?

Six sigma actually has its roots in a 19th century mathematical theory, but found its way into today’s mainstream business world through the efforts of an engineer at motorola in the 1980s. now heralded as one of the foremost methodological practices for improving customer satisfaction and improving business processes, six sigma has been refined and perfected over the years into what we see today..

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Six Sigma ranks among the foremost methodologies for making business processes more effective and efficient. In addition to establishing a culture dedicated to continuous process improvement, Six Sigma offers tools and techniques that reduce variance, eliminate defects and help identify the root causes of errors, allowing organizations to create better products and services for consumers.

While most people associate Six Sigma with manufacturing, the methodology is applicable to every type of process in any industry. In all settings, organizations use Six Sigma to set up a management system that systematically identifies errors and provides methods for eliminating them.

People develop expertise in Six Sigma by earning belts at each level of accomplishment. These include White Belts, Yellow Belts , Green Belts , Black Belts and Master Black Belts.

How Six Sigma Began

In the 19th century, German mathematician and physicist Carl Fredrich Gauss developed the bell curve. By creating the concept of what a normal distribution looks like, the bell curve became an early tool for finding errors and defects in a process.

In the 1920s, American physicist, engineer and statistician Walter Shewhart expanded on this idea and demonstrated that “sigma imply where a process needs improvement,” according to “The Complete Business Process Handbook: Body of Knowledge From Process Modeling to BPM Vol. 1” by Mark von Rosing, August-Wilhelm Scheer and Henrik von Scheel.

In the 1980s, Motorola brought Six Sigma into the mainstream by using the methodology to create more consistent quality in the company’s products, according to “ Six Sigma ” by Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder.

Motorola engineer Bill Smith eventually became one of the pioneers of modern Six Sigma , creating many of the methodologies still associated with Six Sigma in the late 1980s. The system is influenced by, but different than, other management improvement strategies of the time, including Total Quality Management and Zero Defects.

Does it work? Motorola reported in 2006 that the company had saved $17 billion using Six Sigma.

What Six Sigma Means

Experts credit Shewhart with first developing the idea that any part of process that deviates three sigma from the mean requires improvement. One sigma is one standard deviation .

The Six Sigma methodology calls for bringing operations to a “six sigma” level, which essentially means 3.4 defects for every one million opportunities. The goal is to use continuous process improvement and refine processes until they produce stable and predictable results.

Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology that provides tools and techniques to define and evaluate each step of a process. It provides methods to improve efficiencies in a business structure, improve the quality of the process and increase the bottom-line profit.

The Importance of People in Six Sigma

A key component of successful Six Sigma implementation is buy-in and support from executives. The methodology does not work as well when the entire organization has not bought in.

Another critical factor is the training of personnel at all levels of the organization. White Belts and Yellow Belts typically receive an introduction to process improvement theories and Six Sigma terminology . Green Belts typically work for Black Belts on projects, helping with data collection and analysis. Black Belts lead projects while Master Black Belts look for ways to apply Six Sigma across an organization.

Methodologies of Six Sigma

There are two major methodologies used within Six Sigma, both of which are composed of five sections, according to the 2005 book “JURAN Institute Six Sigma Breakthrough and Beyond” by Joseph A. De Feo and William Barnard.

DMAIC : The DMAIC method is used primarily for improving existing business processes. The letters stand for:

  • D efine the problem and the project goals
  • M easure in detail the various aspects of the current process
  • A nalyze data to, among other things, find the root defects in a process
  • I mprove the process
  • C ontrol how the process is done in the future

DMADV : The DMADV method is typically used to create new processes and new products or services. The letters stand for:

  • D efine the project goals
  • M easure critical components of the process and the product capabilities
  • A nalyze the data and develop various designs for the process, eventually picking the best one
  • D esign and test details of the process
  • V erify the design by running simulations and a pilot program, and then handing over the process to the client

There are also many management tools used within Six Sigma. Some examples include the following.

This is a method that uses questions (typically five) to get to the root cause of a problem . The method is simple: simply state the final problem (the car wouldn’t start, I was late to work again today) and then ask the question “why,” breaking down the issue to its root cause. In these two cases, it might be: because I didn’t maintain the car properly and because I need to leave my house earlier to get to work on time.

The Critical to Quality (CTQ) Tree diagram breaks down the components of a process that produces the features needed in your product and service if you wish to have satisfied customers.

Root Cause Analysis

Much like the Five Whys, this is a process by which a business attempts to identify the root cause of a defect and then correct it, rather than simply correcting the surface “symptoms.”

All the Six Sigma tools and methodologies serve one purpose: to streamline business processes to produce the best products and services possible with the smallest number of defects. Its adoption by corporations around the globe is an indicator of its remarkable success in today’s business environment.

six sigma problem solving methods

What Are Six Sigma Tools?

Practical Six Sigma Tools to Produce Quality Outcomes

Last Updated March 8, 2024

Lean Six Sigma offers a proven methodology with tools and techniques that empower people to take better control of how an organization operates.

The methodology requires leadership buy-in, correct implementation and education to teach practitioners how to master its principles. The goal is a more efficient and effective operation.

This article will explain six tools from the Lean Six Sigma methodology that professionals can use to help improve processes and project outcomes. The goal of each tool is practical in nature and offers systematic approaches to solving seemingly intractable problems.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys helps identify the root cause of a problem and may be one of the most practical tools in Lean Six Sigma’s arsenal.

The Five Whys requires asking a series of “why” questions (typically five or less) that can help project teams understand the heart of the problem and how to take action to correct it. The process starts with a statement of a problem.

For example:

  • We are always late getting our shipment to client X.
  • Department A does not receive the information it needs from Department B.

Then, a series of “why” questions are asked to dig deeper into the issue until a root cause is found. Using the Five Whys can help organizations identify the root cause of the issue rather than dealing with the symptoms of the bigger problem.

Keep in mind that the Five Whys could lead to a variety of conclusions for different levels of an organization. For example, using the tool for the question “why did the Titanic sink?” could lead to an operations issue (lookouts didn’t see the iceberg soon enough), an executive issue (they were going too fast) or a design issue (the hull wasn’t built to keep water from flowing from one compartment to another). All, however, are valid causes.

Poka-yoke is a method for taking steps to mistake-proof a human process. It operates under the assumption that, frequently, small changes can fix a larger problem. The goal is to eventually have zero defects. With poka-yoke , people from any stage of an operation can develop an idea for the change. The emphasis with poka-yoke is on executing plans and analyzing the results.

One example is the software program that controls an online form and requires filling in every field to move to the next page so the user does not have to waste time redoing an incomplete application.

Control Charts

A control chart helps analyze the differences in a process before and after changes are made. Its most common use is to create a chart that indicates the stability of a process. Data is gathered on an operation’s key characteristics and outcomes. A chart is then made showing the range of variation in these areas. The less variation, the better.

A control chart is a practical, effective way to visualize the consistency and stability of a process. It allows practitioners to see a process over time and provides more predictability than raw data. Using a hospital setting as an example, a control chart might show the results of the process of putting new patients into the system at a hospital emergency room. It could also show the usual time it takes to enter the information into the system and how long it takes for the right clinical personnel to arrive. In this case, time is the important variable. Hospitals want a consistent track record of how long it takes to get a patient from intake to the care they need.

Value Stream Mapping

A value stream map is a tool typically used in Lean that can help organizations identify and eliminate waste along the entire cycle of a process. Value stream mapping takes a higher-level view of an operation and requires mapping out every step of the process from beginning to end, supplier to customer. Each task along the way is considered through the lens of the value it brings to the final product. A value stream map can help identify areas where further steps need to be taken and can visualize the eight forms of waste in Lean – defects, over-production, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra processing.

The Lean Six Sigma course , one of the two required courses in Villanova’s Certificate in Lean Six Sigma program , teaches that the first rule of value stream mapping is to start with a simple, basic map to focus on the major process steps and to help avoid confusion. Next, maps should be created by team members and compared, allowing each person to see what was created. The final rule of value stream mapping is to ensure the team leader trains everyone on how to create a proper value stream map, one that does not contain team member bias.

Cause and Effect Diagram

Sometimes known as a Fishbone Diagram (because of its shape), a Cause and Effect Diagram is a graphical tool used to display causes associated with a specific event. Each cause is then organized into categories to help determine potential causes for problems. Using it can involve application of the Five Whys and other methods used to find root causes of operational problems.

Take, for example, the hypothetical issue of why the correct stakeholders are not being invited to a creative meeting. Meetings are often rescheduled because a needed person is not in the room.

Why does this happen? Some potential causes could be:

  • The email distribution list for the meeting is old
  • The person in charge of the meeting is not in charge of the email distribution list
  • The person in question has a conflicting meeting
  • The person in question works remotely the day of the meeting

Of course, the meeting participants could gather in a room and come up with reasons for the problem without a diagram. However, the Cause and Effect Diagram is all about scope, a focused form of brainstorming where potential causes are identified by category. There may be several reasons why stakeholders are not in a meeting. Taking the time to document those reasons can help increase the chances of coming up with a solution to the problem.

Takt time is the rhythm of production and the amount of time that each product or service must be delivered within to meet customer’s demand. First, the rate of consumer demand (on average) must be determined. Then, how much time is needed to deliver the product or service is measured against that demand rate.

This process serves two main purposes. First, it ensures that the rate by which a product or service is being done meets consumer demand. Second, it ensures that too much of a product is not made, cutting down on the time a product spends in inventory.

The first documented use of Takt time was in German aircraft manufacturing in the 1930s.  Toyota later applied Takt time to determine the best cycle time for making cars. Today, a restaurant could use it to determine the production cycle needed to make enough food to meet expected demand, but not so much that food goes to waste.

These are some of the tools and techniques employed in Lean Six Sigma to help make operations more effective and efficient. Gaining knowledge and competency in these areas can help you prepare for industry certification , identify and eliminate defects and waste in your organization and sustain processes to help increase your productivity.  

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The Six Sigma Strategy's DMAIC Problem-Solving Method

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Six Sigma is a business management strategy that was initially developed by Motorola in the 1980s and is used by many Fortune 500 companies today. It is primarily used to identify and rectify errors in a manufacturing or business process.

The Six Sigma system uses a number of quality methods and tools that are used by Six Sigma trained professionals within the organization. The DMAIC problem-solving method can be used to help with any issue that arises, usually by professionals in the organization who have reached the "green belt" level.

The DMAIC Method

The DMAIC problem-solving method is a roadmap that can be used for any projects or quality improvements that need to be made. The term DMAIC stands for the five main steps in the process: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

  • Define: It is important in Six Sigma to define the problem or project goals. The more specific the problem is defined, the greater the chance of obtaining measurements and then successfully completing the project or solving the problem. The definition should describe the issue accurately with numeric representation. For example, “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months." The definition of the problem or project should not be vague, such as, “quality has fallen.” As part of the definition stage, the scope of the project or issue should be defined, as well as the business processes involved.
  • Measure: When the project or problem has been defined, decisions should then be made about additional measurements required to quantify the problem. For example, if the definition of the problem is “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months,” then additional measurements might need to be looked at. This includes what finished goods are being damaged, when they are being damaged, and the level of damage.
  • Analyze: Once the measuring stage has defined the additional measurements, the data is then collected and analyzed. At this point, it is possible to determine whether the problem is valid or whether it is a random event that does not have a specific cause that can be corrected. The data that has been collected can be used as a base level to compare against measurements after the project has been completed to ascertain the success of the project.
  • Improve: After measurements have been taken and analyzed, possible solutions can then be developed. Test data can be created and pilot studies launched to find which of the solutions offers the best improvements to the issue. The team should also look at the results to ensure that there are no unanticipated consequences to the selected solution. When the most appropriate solution is selected, then the team can develop an implementation plan and a timeline for the completion of the project.
  • Control: After the implementation of the solution or project, a number of controls must be put in place so that measurements can be taken to confirm that the solution is still valid and to prevent a recurrence. The control measurements can be scheduled for specific dates, e.g., monthly, daily, and yearly. The solution should also be well documented and any other related process documentation updated.

The DMAIC problem-solving method can produce significant improvements for an organization that is using the Six Sigma methodology and tools. The method offers a five-step plan that gives organizations a roadmap to follow so that issues can be resolved using a structured methodology.

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  • Guide: Problem Solving

Author's Avatar

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

  • Last Updated: January 7, 2024
  • Learn Lean Sigma

Problem-solving stands as a fundamental skill, crucial in navigating the complexities of both everyday life and professional environments. Far from merely providing quick fixes, it entails a comprehensive process involving the identification, analysis, and resolution of issues.

This multifaceted approach requires an understanding of the problem’s nature, the exploration of its various components, and the development of effective solutions. At its core, problem-solving serves as a bridge from the current situation to a desired outcome, requiring not only the recognition of an existing gap but also the precise definition and thorough analysis of the problem to find viable solutions.

Table of Contents

What is problem solving.

Problem Solving

At its core, problem-solving is about bridging the gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. It starts with recognizing that a discrepancy exists, which requires intervention to correct or improve. The ability to identify a problem is the first step, but it’s equally crucial to define it accurately. A well-defined problem is half-solved, as the saying goes.

Analyzing the problem is the next critical step. This analysis involves breaking down the problem into smaller parts to understand its intricacies. It requires looking at the problem from various angles and considering all relevant factors – be they environmental, social, technical, or economic. This comprehensive analysis aids in developing a deeper understanding of the problem’s root causes, rather than just its symptoms.

Reverse brainstorming - problem solving - Idea generation

Finally, effective problem-solving involves the implementation of the chosen solution and its subsequent evaluation. This stage tests the practicality of the solution and its effectiveness in the real world. It’s a critical phase where theoretical solutions meet practical application.

The Nature of Problems

The nature of the problem significantly influences the approach to solving it. Problems vary greatly in their complexity and structure, and understanding this is crucial for effective problem-solving.

Simple vs. Complex Problems : Simple problems are straightforward, often with clear solutions. They usually have a limited number of variables and predictable outcomes. On the other hand, complex problems are multi-faceted. They involve multiple variables, stakeholders, and potential outcomes, often requiring a more sophisticated analysis and a multi-pronged approach to solving.

Structured vs. Unstructured Problems : Structured problems are well-defined. They follow a specific pattern or set of rules, making their outcomes more predictable. These problems often have established methodologies for solving. For example, mathematical problems usually fall into this category. Unstructured problems, in contrast, are more ambiguous. They lack a clear pattern or set of rules, making their outcomes uncertain. These problems require a more exploratory approach, often involving trial and error, to identify potential solutions.

Understanding the type of problem at hand is essential, as it dictates the approach. For instance, a simple problem might require a straightforward solution, while a complex problem might need a more comprehensive, step-by-step approach. Similarly, structured problems might benefit from established methodologies, whereas unstructured problems might need more innovative and creative problem-solving techniques.

The Problem-Solving Process

The process of problem-solving is a methodical approach that involves several distinct stages. Each stage plays a crucial role in navigating from the initial recognition of a problem to its final resolution. Let’s explore each of these stages in detail.

Step 1: Identifying the Problem

Problem Identification

Step 2: Defining the Problem

Once the problem is identified, the next step is to define it clearly and precisely. This is a critical phase because a well-defined problem often suggests its solution. Defining the problem involves breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts. It also includes understanding the scope and impact of the problem. A clear definition helps in focusing efforts and resources efficiently and serves as a guide to stay on track during the problem-solving process.

Step 3: Analyzing the Problem

Analyze Data

Step 4: Generating Solutions


Step 5: Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

After generating a list of possible solutions, the next step is to evaluate each one critically. This evaluation includes considering the feasibility, costs, benefits, and potential impact of each solution. Techniques like cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, and scenario planning can be useful here. The aim is to select the solution that best addresses the problem in the most efficient and effective way, considering the available resources and constraints.

Step 6: Implementing the Solution


Step 7: Reviewing and Reflecting

The final stage in the problem-solving process is to review the implemented solution and reflect on its effectiveness and the process as a whole. This involves assessing whether the solution met its intended goals and what could have been done differently. Reflection is a critical part of learning and improvement. It helps in understanding what worked well and what didn’t, providing valuable insights for future problem-solving efforts.

Tools and Techniques for Effective Problem Solving

Problem-solving is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a variety of tools and techniques to navigate effectively. Different stages of the problem-solving process can benefit from specific strategies, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the solutions developed. Here’s a detailed look at some key tools and techniques:



SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)


Root Cause Analysis

This is a method used to identify the underlying causes of a problem, rather than just addressing its symptoms. One popular technique within root cause analysis is the “ 5 Whys ” method. This involves asking “why” multiple times (traditionally five) until the fundamental cause of the problem is uncovered. This technique encourages deeper thinking and can reveal connections that aren’t immediately obvious. By addressing the root cause, solutions are more likely to be effective and long-lasting.

RCA Process high level

Mind Mapping

Sub-Branches Mind map

Each of these tools and techniques can be adapted to different types of problems and situations. Effective problem solvers often use a combination of these methods, depending on the nature of the problem and the context in which it exists. By leveraging these tools, one can enhance their ability to dissect complex problems, generate creative solutions, and implement effective strategies to address challenges.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Developing problem-solving skills is a dynamic process that hinges on both practice and introspection. Engaging with a diverse array of problems enhances one’s ability to adapt and apply different strategies. This exposure is crucial as it allows individuals to encounter various scenarios, ranging from straightforward to complex, each requiring a unique approach. Collaborating with others in teams is especially beneficial. It broadens one’s perspective, offering insights into different ways of thinking and approaching problems. Such collaboration fosters a deeper understanding of how diverse viewpoints can contribute to more robust solutions.

Reflection is equally important in the development of problem-solving skills. Reflecting on both successes and failures provides valuable lessons. Successes reinforce effective strategies and boost confidence, while failures are rich learning opportunities that highlight areas for improvement. This reflective practice enables one to understand what worked, what didn’t, and why.

Critical thinking is a foundational skill in problem-solving. It involves analyzing information, evaluating different perspectives, and making reasoned judgments. Creativity is another vital component. It pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking and leads to innovative solutions. Effective communication also plays a crucial role, as it ensures that ideas are clearly understood and collaboratively refined.

In conclusion, problem-solving is an indispensable skill set that blends analytical thinking, creativity, and practical implementation. It’s a journey from understanding the problem to applying a solution and learning from the outcome.

Whether dealing with simple or complex issues, or structured or unstructured challenges, the essence of problem-solving lies in a methodical approach and the effective use of various tools and techniques. It’s a skill that is honed over time, through experience, reflection, and the continuous development of critical thinking, creativity, and communication abilities. In mastering problem-solving, one not only addresses immediate issues but also builds a foundation for future challenges, leading to more innovative and effective outcomes.

  • Mourtos, N.J., Okamoto, N.D. and Rhee, J., 2004, February. Defining, teaching, and assessing problem solving skills . In  7th UICEE Annual Conference on Engineering Education  (pp. 1-5).
  • Foshay, R. and Kirkley, J., 2003. Principles for teaching problem solving.   Technical paper ,  4 (1), pp.1-16.

Q: What are the key steps in the problem-solving process?

A : The problem-solving process involves several key steps: identifying the problem, defining it clearly, analyzing it to understand its root causes, generating a range of potential solutions, evaluating and selecting the most viable solution, implementing the chosen solution, and finally, reviewing and reflecting on the effectiveness of the solution and the process used to arrive at it.

Q: How can brainstorming be effectively used in problem-solving?

A: Brainstorming is effective in the solution generation phase of problem-solving. It involves gathering a group and encouraging the free flow of ideas without immediate criticism. The goal is to produce a large quantity of ideas, fostering creative thinking. This technique helps in uncovering unique and innovative solutions that might not surface in a more structured setting.

Q: What is SWOT Analysis and how does it aid in problem-solving?

A : SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a situation. In problem-solving, it aids by providing a clear understanding of the internal and external factors that could impact the problem and potential solutions. This analysis helps in formulating strategies that leverage strengths and opportunities while mitigating weaknesses and threats.

Q: Why is it important to understand the nature of a problem before solving it?

A : Understanding the nature of a problem is crucial as it dictates the approach for solving it. Problems can be simple or complex, structured or unstructured, and each type requires a different strategy. A clear understanding of the problem’s nature helps in applying the appropriate methods and tools for effective resolution.

Q: How does reflection contribute to developing problem-solving skills?

A : Reflection is a critical component in developing problem-solving skills. It involves looking back at the problem-solving process and the implemented solution to assess what worked well and what didn’t. Reflecting on both successes and failures provides valuable insights and lessons, helping to refine and improve problem-solving strategies for future challenges. This reflective practice enhances one’s ability to approach problems more effectively over time.

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Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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What is six sigma, what is lean six sigma, the 5 key principles of six sigma, the six sigma methodology, the six sigma process of business transformation, six sigma techniques, the six sigma tools, six sigma levels, what are the six sigma career choices and salary prospects, six sigma learning resources, what is six sigma: everything you need to know about it.

What is Six Sigma: Everything You Need to Know About it

Reviewed and fact-checked by Sayantoni Das

The term "Six Sigma" refers to a statistical measure of how far a process deviates from perfection. A process that operates at six sigma has a failure rate of only 0.00034%, which means it produces virtually no defects. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in the 1980s, and it has since been adopted by many other companies around the world, including General Electric, Toyota, and Amazon. It is used in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and service industries to improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and increase profits.

Check out this video to know more about Six Sigma:

Six Sigma is a set of methodologies and tools used to improve business processes by reducing defects and errors, minimizing variation, and increasing quality and efficiency. The goal of Six Sigma is to achieve a level of quality that is nearly perfect, with only 3.4 defects per million opportunities. This is achieved by using a structured approach called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) to identify and eliminate causes of variation and improve processes.

Six Sigma is a disciplined and data-driven approach widely used in project management to achieve process improvement and minimize defects. It provides a systematic framework to identify and eliminate variations that can impact project performance.

The etymology is based on the Greek symbol "sigma" or "σ," a statistical term for measuring process deviation from the process mean or target. "Six Sigma" comes from the bell curve used in statistics, where one Sigma symbolizes a single standard deviation from the mean. If the process has six Sigmas, three above and three below the mean, the defect rate is classified as "extremely low." 

The graph of the normal distribution below underscores the statistical assumptions of the Six Sigma model . The higher the standard deviation, the higher is the spread of values encountered. So, processes, where the mean is minimum 6σ away from the closest specification limit, are aimed at Six Sigma.

graph of the normal distribution curve in six sigma

Credit: Cmglee , via Wiki Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

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Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines two powerful process improvement techniques: Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency by identifying and eliminating non-value-adding activities. This involves streamlining processes, reducing defects, improving quality, and optimizing resources to deliver more value with less effort.

On the other hand, Six Sigma is a statistical approach to process improvement that aims to reduce variation and defects by using data-driven decision making. It involves defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling processes to achieve consistent and predictable results.

By combining the strengths of these two methodologies, Lean Six Sigma provides a comprehensive approach to process improvement that can be applied to any industry or sector. It is widely used in manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and service industries to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.

The concept of Six Sigma has a simple goal – delivering near-perfect goods and services for business transformation for optimal customer satisfaction (CX).

Goals are achieved through a two-pronged approach:

five key principles of six sigma

Six Sigma has its foundations in five key principles:

Focus on the Customer

Measure the value stream and find your problem, learn six sigma and get upto usd 114600 pa.

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The two main Six Sigma methodologies are DMAIC and DMADV. Each has its own set of recommended procedures to be implemented for business transformation.

DMAIC is a data-driven method used to improve existing products or services for better customer satisfaction. It is the acronym for the five phases: D – Define, M – Measure, A – Analyse, I – Improve, C – Control. DMAIC is applied in the manufacturing of a product or delivery of a service.

DMADV is a part of the Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) process used to design or re-design different processes of product manufacturing or service delivery. The five phases of DMADV are: D – Define, M – Measure, A – Analyse, D – Design, V – Validate. DMADV is employed when existing processes do not meet customer conditions, even after optimization, or when it is required to develop new methods. It is executed by Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts and under the supervision of Six Sigma Master Black Belts. We'll get to the belts later.

The two methodologies are used in different business settings, and professionals seeking to master these methods and application scenarios would do well to take an online certificate program taught by industry experts.

Operations Manager or Auditor? Your Choice

Operations Manager or Auditor? Your Choice

Although what is Six Sigma uses various methods to discover deviations and solve problems, the DMAIC is the standard methodology used by Six Sigma practitioners. Six Sigma uses a data-driven management process used for optimizing and improving business processes. The underlying framework is a strong customer focus and robust use of data and statistics to conclude.  

The Six Sigma Process of the DMAIC method has five phases:

Five phases of DMAIC methods

Each of the above phases of business transformation has several steps:

The Six Sigma methodology also uses a mix of statistical and data analysis tools such as process mapping and design and proven qualitative and quantitative techniques, to achieve the desired outcome.

Key Six Sigma Techniques in use

Fig: Key Six Sigma Techniques in use


Brainstorming is the key process of any problem-solving method and is often utilized in the "improve" phase of the DMAIC methodology. It is a necessary process before anyone starts using any tools. Brainstorming involves bouncing ideas and generating creative ways to approach a problem through intensive freewheeling group discussions. A facilitator, who is typically the lead Black Belt or Green Belt, moderates the open session among a group of participants.

Root Cause Analysis/The 5 Whys

This technique helps to get to the root cause of the problems under consideration and is used in the "analyze" phase of the DMAIC cycle.

In the 5 Whys technique, the question "why" is asked, again and again, finally leading up to the core issue. Although "five" is a rule of thumb, the actual number of questions can be greater or fewer, whatever it takes to gain clarity.

Voice of the Customer

This is the process used to capture the "voice of the customer" or customer feedback by either internal or external means. The technique is aimed at giving the customer the best products and services. It captures the changing needs of the customer through direct and indirect methods. The voice of the customer technique is used in the "define' phase of the DMAIC method, usually to further define the problem to be addressed.

The 5S System

This technique has its roots in the Japanese principle of workplace energies. The 5S System is aimed at removing waste and eliminating bottlenecks from inefficient tools, equipment, or resources in the workplace. The five steps used are Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Set In Order), Seiso (Shine), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain).

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

The Kaizen technique is a powerful strategy that powers a continuous engine for business improvement. It is the practice continuously monitoring, identifying, and executing improvements. This is a particularly useful practice for the manufacturing sector. Collective and ongoing improvements ensure a reduction in waste, as well as immediate change whenever the smallest inefficiency is observed.


Benchmarking is the technique that employs a set standard of measurement. It involves making comparisons with other businesses to gain an independent appraisal of the given situation. Benchmarking may involve comparing important processes or departments within a business (internal benchmarking), comparing similar work areas or functions with industry leaders (functional benchmarking), or comparing similar products and services with that of competitors (competitive benchmarking).

Poka-yoke (Mistake Proofing)

This technique's name comes from the Japanese phrase meaning "to avoid errors," and entails preventing the chance of mistakes from occurring. In the poka-yoke technique, employees spot and remove inefficiencies and human errors during the manufacturing process.

Value Stream Mapping

The value stream mapping technique charts the current flow of materials and information to design a future project. The objective is to remove waste and inefficiencies in the value stream and create leaner operations. It identifies seven different types of waste and three types of waste removal operations.

  • Cause and Effect Analysis
  • Pareto Chart
  • Check Sheet
  • Scatter Plot
  • Control Chart

The Six Sigma training levels conform to specified training requirements, education criteria, job standards, and eligibility.

This is the simplest stage, where:

  • Any newcomer can join.
  • People work with teams on problem-solving projects.
  • The participant is required to understand the basic Six Sigma concepts.

Yellow Belt

Here, the participant:

  • Takes part as a project team member.
  • Reviews process improvements.
  • Gains understanding of the various methodologies, and DMAIC.

Green level

This level of expertise requires the following criteria:

  • Minimum of three years of full-time employment.
  • Understand the tools and methodologies used for problem-solving.
  • Hands-on experience on projects involving some level of business transformation.
  • Guidance for Black Belt projects in data collection and analysis.
  • Lead Green Belt projects or teams.

Black Level

This level includes the following:

  • Minimum of three years of full-time employment
  • Work experience in a core knowledge area
  • Proof of completion of a minimum  of two Six Sigma projects
  • Demonstration of expertise at applying multivariate metrics to diverse business change settings
  • Leading diverse teams in problem-solving projects.
  • Training and coaching project teams.

Master Black Belt

To reach this level, a candidate must:

  • Be in possession of a Black Belt certification
  • Have a minimum of five years of full-time employment, or Proof of completion of a minimum of 10 Six Sigma projects
  • A proven work portfolio, with individual specific requirements, as given here , for instance.
  • Have coached and trained Green Belts and Black Belts.
  • Develop key metrics and strategies.
  • Have worked as an organization's Six Sigma technologist and internal business transformation advisor.

The five-tiered levels of Six Sigma Certification

Fig: The five-tiered levels of Six Sigma Certification

Six Sigma is widely adopted by many industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and retail, and offers a range of career opportunities with attractive salary prospects. Here are some career choices and salary prospects in Six Sigma:

  • Six Sigma Consultant: A Six Sigma consultant advises organizations on process improvements, identifies areas for cost savings, and develops strategies for implementation. The average salary for a Six Sigma consultant is around $96,000 per year.
  • Six Sigma Project Manager: A Six Sigma project manager oversees Six Sigma projects, manages project teams, and ensures successful implementation of process improvements. The average salary for a Six Sigma project manager is around $107,000 per year.
  • Six Sigma Black Belt : A Six Sigma Black Belt is responsible for leading Six Sigma projects, training team members, and ensuring sustained process improvements. The average salary is around $110,000 per year.
  • Six Sigma Master Black Belt: It is the highest level of Six Sigma certification and is responsible for leading organizational Six Sigma initiatives, coaching and mentoring Six Sigma Black Belts and Green Belts, and driving business transformation. The average salary for a Six Sigma Master Black Belt is around $140,000 per year.
  • Quality Manager: A Quality Manager ensures that an organization's products or services meet customer expectations, industry standards, and regulatory requirements. Six Sigma certification can be valuable for this role, and the average salary for a Quality Manager is around $91,000 per year.

Overall, Six Sigma offers various career opportunities with competitive salary prospects. Individuals with Six Sigma certification can expect higher salaries and better job prospects than those without certification.

So whether you are a graduate in any stream, an engineer, or an MBA professional, if you want to enhance your career prospects and salary gains, then make sure to get certified in Six Sigma courses. Begin with a Green Belt and climb your way up to Master Black belt to command your salary. As a fresher, you can start learning Six Sigma principles by enrolling into Simplilearn's Green Belt certificate program , and then avail the higher certificate levels as you gain work and project experience.

1. How Can You Get Six Sigma Certification?

Understanding the Management Philosophy of Your Organization, selecting between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, determining which Level Suits You, learning about the Tests Associated with it, Enrolling in a Training Course, and obtaining Your Certification are the steps to obtaining Six Sigma Certification.

2. What Does Six Sigma Mean?

Six Sigma is a quality improvement methodology for businesses that counts the number of flaws in a process and aims to systematically fix them. Businesses utilize it to get rid of flaws and enhance any of their procedures in an effort to increase earnings.

3. What Is the Difference Between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma?

Lean and Six Sigma vary primarily in that Lean frequently affects all aspects of an organization rather than being solely focused on production. These two strategies are combined by Lean Six Sigma to produce a potent toolkit for dealing with waste reduction.

4. What Are the Steps of Six Sigma?

Six Sigma's five steps adhere to a methodology known to business insiders as DMAIC. The words "define, measure, analyze, enhance, and control" are all spelled out in this acronym.

5. What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a method for improving performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation that relies on a collaborative team effort. Increased performance and decreased process variation contribute to defect reduction and improvements in profits, employee morale, and product or service quality.

6. What is continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement (also known as "rapid improvement") is a Lean improvement technique that aids in workflow optimization. The Lean method of working allows for efficient workflows that save time and money, allowing you to cut down on wasted time and effort.

7. What is Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt?

A Certified Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt from the Council for Six Sigma Certification (CSSC) is someone who has a basic understanding of Six Sigma but does not lead projects on their own. They are frequently in charge of creating process maps to support Six Sigma projects.

8. What is Lean Six Sigma Green Belt?

Six Sigma Green Belt is a certification course that provides you with hands-on experience with over 100 tools and techniques. These techniques are required for participation in DMAIC improvement projects. DMAIC is an acronym that stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

9. What is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt?

A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt has a thorough understanding of all aspects of the Lean Six Sigma Method, including a high level of competence in the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) phases as defined by the IASSC.

10. What are the Five Key Six Sigma Principles?

The success of Six Sigma relies on five fundamental principles:Customer Focus, Data-Driven Analysis, Proactive Improvement, Cross-Functional Collaboration, and Thoroughness and Flexibility.

11. What are Six Sigma steps?

The Six Sigma Methodology consists of five stages driven by data — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC).

12. What is Six Sigma with an example?

Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology used to improve processes by minimizing defects and variations. For example, a manufacturing company may use Six Sigma to reduce the number of defective products produced by optimizing their production process.

13. What are Six Sigma tools?

14. what is the six sigma formula.

Utilizing the equation Y = f(x) aids in identifying cause and effect relationships within a project, enabling performance measurement and the discovery of areas for enhancement. 

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8D Corrective Action: Mastering Problem-Solving for Continuous Improvement

May 13th, 2024

Businesses constantly refine products, services, and workflows to stay ahead. But issues can still pop up, angering customers and jacking costs while hurting a company’s image. This is where the 8D corrective action problem-solving method earns its stripes.

It was developed by Ford in the 80s and has since spread widely across manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, and more.

The 8D approach is a methodical process combining pros from different parts of the company, analytical tools, and fact-based decision-making.

By following its eight systematic steps, organizations can expertly handle thorny problems. They uncover root causes and implement lasting fixes addressing immediate concerns while fueling constant upgrades to prevent repeat issues.

Key Highlights

  • Understanding the origins and history of the 8D corrective action methodology, its benefits, and when to apply it for optimal results.
  • Exploring the eight disciplined steps of the 8D corrective action process.
  • Integrating the 8D methodology with quality management systems, leveraging Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) to streamline workflows.
  • Examining case studies and examples from various industries, including manufacturing, service, healthcare, and the automotive sector.

Understanding the 8D Corrective Action Problem-Solving Methodology

The Eight Disciplines (8D) methodology is a structured, team-based approach to problem-solving that aims to identify the root causes of issues and implement effective corrective actions. 

It is a comprehensive framework that combines analytical tools, cross-functional collaboration, and a disciplined mindset to tackle complex problems systematically.

The 8D process establishes a step-by-step approach that guides organizations through eight distinct disciplines, each building upon the previous one. 

Origins and History of 8D Corrective Action

The origins of the 8D methodology can be traced back to the 1980s when it was developed and pioneered by Ford Motor Company. 

Initially referred to as “ Team Oriented Problem Solving ” (TOPS), this approach was designed to address the recurring quality issues that plagued the automotive industry at the time.

Recognizing the limitations of traditional problem-solving techniques, Ford sought to establish a more robust and effective framework that would not only resolve immediate concerns but also drive continuous improvement and prevent future issues. 

The 8D methodology quickly gained traction within Ford and was subsequently adopted as the company’s primary approach for documenting and addressing problem-solving efforts.

As the benefits of the 8D corrective action process became evident, it rapidly gained popularity among other manufacturers and industries, transcending its automotive roots. 

Today, the 8D methodology is widely employed across various sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, and service industries, among others.

Benefits of Using 8D Corrective Action

Implementing the 8D problem-solving methodology offers numerous benefits to organizations, including:

1. Systematic Approach : The structured nature of the 8D process ensures a consistent and comprehensive approach to problem-solving, reducing the risk of overlooking critical factors or jumping to premature conclusions.

2. Root Cause Identification : By emphasizing root cause analysis , the 8D methodology goes beyond addressing surface-level symptoms and focuses on identifying and eliminating the underlying causes of problems.

3. Cross-Functional Collaboration : The team-based approach fosters cross-functional collaboration, leveraging diverse perspectives and expertise from various departments, leading to more robust and well-rounded solutions.

4. Preventive Measures : The 8D corrective action process incorporates preventive actions to mitigate the recurrence of similar issues, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and proactive problem-solving.

5. Improved Quality and Reliability : By addressing root causes and implementing corrective actions, organizations can enhance the quality and reliability of their products, services, and processes, leading to increased customer satisfaction and cost savings.

6. Knowledge Sharing and Organizational Learning : The documentation and archiving of 8D processes facilitate knowledge sharing and organizational learning, enabling teams to build upon past experiences and lessons learned.

When to Apply 8D Corrective Action

The 8D problem-solving methodology is particularly valuable in situations where:

  • Root Cause Analysis is Required: When issues persist despite initial troubleshooting efforts, or when the underlying causes are not immediately apparent, the 8D process can provide a structured approach to root cause analysis.
  • Recurring Problems: If an organization experiences recurring problems or quality issues, the 8D methodology can help identify and eliminate the root causes, preventing future occurrences.
  • Quality Issues with Significant Impact: When quality issues have a substantial impact on customer satisfaction, safety, regulatory compliance, or financial performance, the rigorous 8D approach can be employed to address the problem comprehensively.
  • Complex Problems: For intricate problems involving multiple factors, processes, or departments, the cross-functional nature of the 8D team and the systematic approach can facilitate a thorough investigation and effective solution development.

By understanding the core principles, benefits, and appropriate application scenarios of the 8D problem-solving methodology, organizations can leverage this powerful framework to drive continuous improvement , enhance quality, and maintain a competitive edge in their respective industries.

The Eight Disciplines (8D) Process

At the heart of the 8D corrective action methodology lies a structured, step-by-step approach that guides organizations through eight distinct disciplines. 

Each discipline builds upon the previous one, ensuring a thorough investigation, analysis, and resolution of the problem at hand.

The eight disciplines of the 8D process are designed to facilitate a systematic and disciplined approach to problem-solving, leveraging cross-functional collaboration, analytical tools, and data-driven decision-making. 

D0: Planning and Preparation

Before embarking on the 8D corrective action journey, proper planning and preparation are crucial. This initial step, often referred to as Discipline Zero (D0), lays the foundation for a successful problem-solving effort.

During D0, the team gathers relevant information about the problem, assesses the need for interim containment actions, and establishes the prerequisites for forming an effective cross-functional team. 

This stage involves collecting data on symptoms, identifying potential risks, and ensuring that the necessary resources and support are in place to execute the 8D process effectively.

D1: Team Formation

The first formal discipline of the 8D process focuses on assembling a cross-functional team with the collective knowledge, skills, and expertise required to tackle the problem at hand. 

Effective team formation is critical to the success of the 8D corrective action effort, as it ensures diverse perspectives and a comprehensive understanding of the issue.

During D1, team members are carefully selected from various departments or functions, such as product engineering, process engineering, quality assurance, and data analysis.

Best practices in team formation involve considering factors such as technical expertise, problem-solving skills, interpersonal abilities, and the availability and commitment of potential team members. 

Establishing ground rules, communication protocols, and team-building exercises can further enhance collaboration and effective teamwork.

D2: Problem Description

In Discipline 2, the team focuses on accurately describing the problem, utilizing quantitative data and evidence-based approaches. 

This step is crucial, as it establishes a shared understanding of the issue and guides the subsequent steps of the 8D process.

The problem description involves defining the problem statement in specific, measurable terms, identifying the affected product or process, and quantifying the impact on operations, quality, customer satisfaction, and costs. 

Tools such as the “ 5 Whys ” technique, Ishikawa (fishbone) diagrams , and “ Is/Is Not ” analysis can aid in this process, helping to capture relevant details and categorize information.

D3: Interim Containment Actions

While the team works towards identifying and implementing permanent solutions, Discipline 3 focuses on implementing interim containment actions to mitigate the immediate impact of the problem and protect customers from further exposure.

Interim containment actions are temporary measures designed to isolate the problem and prevent it from causing further harm or spreading to other areas, processes, or products. 

These actions may include segregating defective products, implementing additional inspections or checks, or introducing manual oversight until permanent corrective actions are in place.

It is essential to verify the effectiveness of interim containment actions and monitor their implementation to ensure that they are successful in containing the problem and minimizing its impact on operations and customers.

D4: Root Cause Analysis

At the core of the 8D corrective action process lies Discipline 4, which focuses on identifying the root causes of the problem through rigorous analysis and data-driven investigation. 

This step is crucial, as it lays the foundation for developing effective and sustainable corrective actions.

During root cause analysis, the team employs various analytical tools and techniques, such as comparative analysis , fault tree analysis , and root cause verification experiments. 

These methods help to isolate and verify the underlying causes of the problem, separating symptoms from true root causes.

Thorough documentation and verification of root causes are essential in this discipline, ensuring that the team has a solid foundation for developing effective corrective actions.

D5: Permanent Corrective Actions (PCAs)

Building upon the insights gained from root cause analysis , Discipline 5 focuses on selecting and verifying permanent corrective actions (PCAs) that address the identified root causes and mitigate the risk of future occurrences.

During this stage, the team evaluates potential corrective actions based on their effectiveness in addressing the root causes, as well as their feasibility, cost, and potential impact on other processes or systems. 

Risk assessment tools, such as Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), can aid in this evaluation process.

Once the most appropriate corrective actions have been selected, the team verifies their effectiveness through pilot testing , simulations, or other validation methods. 

This step ensures that the proposed solutions will indeed resolve the problem and prevent its recurrence without introducing unintended consequences.

Detailed planning and documentation of the corrective actions, including acceptance criteria, implementation timelines, and responsibilities, are critical components of Discipline 5.

D6: Implementation and Validation

In Discipline 6, the team focuses on implementing the selected permanent corrective actions and validating their effectiveness in resolving the problem and preventing future occurrences.

This stage involves developing a comprehensive project plan that outlines the steps, timelines, and resources required for successful implementation. 

Effective communication and coordination with all relevant stakeholders, including cross-functional teams and management, are essential to ensure a smooth transition and minimize disruptions.

During implementation, the team closely monitors the progress and performance of the corrective actions, gathering data and feedback to validate their effectiveness. 

This validation process may involve conducting simulations, inspections, or collecting performance metrics to assess the impact of the implemented solutions.

If the validation process reveals any shortcomings or unintended consequences, the team may need to revisit the corrective actions, make adjustments, or conduct further root cause analysis to address any remaining issues.

D7: Preventive Actions

Discipline 7 of the 8D process focuses on taking preventive measures to ensure that the lessons learned and improvements made during the problem-solving journey are embedded into the organization’s processes, systems, and culture.

In this stage, the team reviews similar products, processes, or areas that could be affected by the same or similar root causes, identifying opportunities to apply preventive actions more broadly. 

This proactive approach helps to mitigate the risk of future occurrences and promotes a culture of continuous improvement .

Effective implementation of preventive actions requires cross-functional collaboration, clear communication, and ongoing monitoring to ensure their sustained effectiveness.

D8: Closure and Celebration

The final discipline of the 8D process, D8, serves as a critical step in recognizing the team’s efforts, sharing lessons learned, and celebrating the successful resolution of the problem.

During this stage, the team conducts a final review of the problem-solving journey, documenting key lessons and insights that can be applied to future projects. 

This documentation not only preserves institutional knowledge but also facilitates continuous improvement by enabling the organization to build upon past experiences.

Equally important is the recognition and celebration of the team’s achievements. By acknowledging the collective efforts, dedication, and collaboration of team members, organizations can foster a positive and supportive culture that values problem-solving and continuous improvement.

Formal recognition events, such as team presentations or awards ceremonies, can be organized to showcase the team’s accomplishments and highlight the impact of their work on the organization’s quality, customer satisfaction, and overall performance.

By completing the eight disciplines of the 8D process, organizations can effectively navigate complex problems, identify root causes, implement sustainable solutions, and establish a foundation for continuous improvement and organizational learning.

Integrating 8D Corrective Action with Quality Management Systems

While the 8D problem-solving methodology offers a robust framework for addressing quality issues and driving continuous improvement, its effectiveness can be further amplified by integrating it with an organization’s quality management systems . 

Leveraging enterprise-level software solutions can streamline the 8D process, enhance collaboration, and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

The Role of EQMS in 8D Corrective Action

Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) plays a pivotal role in supporting the successful implementation of the 8D corrective action methodology. 

By utilizing an EQMS, teams can benefit from features such as:

  • Standardized 8D Workflows: Pre-configured 8D workflows and templates ensure consistency and adherence to best practices, guiding teams through each discipline with clearly defined tasks, responsibilities, and timelines.
  • Collaboration and Communication: EQMS platforms facilitate cross-functional collaboration by providing secure document sharing, real-time updates, and centralized communication channels, ensuring that all stakeholders remain informed and engaged throughout the 8D process.
  • Data Management and Reporting: Comprehensive data management capabilities within an EQMS enable teams to easily capture, analyze, and report on quality data, facilitating data-driven decision-making and root cause analysis during the 8D process.
  • Integration with Quality Systems: EQMS solutions often integrate with other quality management systems, such as corrective and preventive action (CAPA) systems, enabling seamless information sharing and ensuring that the insights gained from the 8D process are incorporated into broader quality improvement initiatives.

Automating 8D Corrective Action Workflows

One of the key advantages of leveraging an EQMS is the ability to automate 8D workflows, streamlining the process and reducing the administrative burden on teams. 

Automated workflows also facilitate consistent documentation and record-keeping, which is essential for maintaining compliance with industry regulations and standards, as well as enabling knowledge sharing and organizational learning.

Data-Driven Decision-making

The 8D corrective action methodology heavily relies on data-driven decision-making, particularly during the root cause analysis and corrective action selection phases. 

An EQMS provides teams with powerful data analysis and reporting capabilities, enabling them to quickly identify trends, patterns, and correlations that can inform their decision-making process.

Continuous Improvement Culture

Ultimately, the integration of the 8D methodology with an EQMS fosters a culture of continuous improvement within an organization. 

The insights gained from the 8D process, coupled with the robust reporting and analytics capabilities of an EQMS, provide organizations with a wealth of data and knowledge that can be leveraged to drive ongoing process optimization and quality enhancement initiatives.

Case Studies and Examples of 8D Corrective Action

To illustrate the practical application and impact of the 8D problem-solving methodology, let us explore a few real-world case studies and examples from various industries. 

These examples will showcase how organizations have successfully leveraged the 8D approach to address quality issues, resolve complex problems, and drive continuous improvement.

Manufacturing Quality Issues

In the manufacturing sector, where quality and reliability are paramount, the 8D methodology has proven invaluable in addressing a wide range of issues. 

One notable example is a leading automotive parts manufacturer that faced recurring quality issues with a critical component, resulting in costly rework and customer dissatisfaction.

By implementing the 8D process, a cross-functional team was assembled to investigate the problem. Through root cause analysis , they identified a flaw in the supplier’s raw material handling processes, leading to inconsistencies in the component’s material properties.

The team implemented interim containment actions to segregate and inspect incoming materials, while also working with the supplier to implement permanent corrective actions, such as upgrading their material handling equipment and revising their quality control procedures.

Service Industry Applications of 8D Corrective Action

While the 8D corrective action approach is often associated with manufacturing, it has also proven valuable in the service industry, where quality and process excellence are equally critical. 

A prominent financial institution faced challenges with excessive customer complaints related to billing errors and account discrepancies.

By implementing the 8D methodology, a cross-functional team analyzed the problem, identifying root causes such as outdated software systems, inadequate training for customer service representatives, and inefficient data entry processes.

The team implemented interim containment actions, including manual account audits and increased customer communication, while also developing permanent corrective actions, such as upgrading their billing software, revising training programs, and streamlining data entry procedures.

Healthcare and Life Sciences

In the healthcare and life sciences industries, where patient safety and regulatory compliance are paramount, the 8D methodology has proven invaluable in addressing quality issues and mitigating risks.

A prominent pharmaceutical company faced a recurring issue with contamination in one of its drug products, posing potential health risks and regulatory concerns.

By implementing the 8D corrective action process, a cross-functional team investigated the issue, identifying root causes related to inadequate environmental controls in the manufacturing facility and inconsistencies in the cleaning and sterilization procedures.

Interim containment actions included quarantining and recalling affected product batches, while permanent corrective actions focused on upgrading the facility’s HVAC systems, revising cleaning and sterilization protocols, and implementing enhanced environmental monitoring.

Automotive Industry (origin of 8D Corrective Action)

It is fitting to revisit the automotive industry, where the 8D methodology originated. In a recent case study, a major automaker faced recurring issues with engine failures in one of their popular vehicle models, leading to costly warranty claims and customer dissatisfaction.

By implementing the 8D process, a cross-functional team investigated the issue, identifying root causes related to a design flaw in the engine’s cooling system and inadequate testing procedures during the product development phase.

Interim containment actions included issuing technical service bulletins and providing temporary cooling system modifications for affected vehicles.

Permanent corrective actions focused on redesigning the engine’s cooling system, implementing more rigorous testing protocols, and enhancing communication between the engineering and manufacturing teams.

Through the 8D process and integration with their quality management practices, the automaker successfully resolved the engine failure issue, regained customer trust, and enhanced their overall product quality and reliability.

The 8D corrective action problem-solving method has proven extremely useful for handling thorny quality issues, continuously upgrading workflows, and cultivating an excellence culture in businesses.

By pairing its structured team approach with analytical tools and fact-based choices, the 8D process empowers companies to uncover root causes. It also helps implement lasting fixes and prevent repeating mistakes through establishing protective measures.

As the case studies and examples show, it’s been put to great use across many industries from manufacturing to healthcare where it originated in automotive.

Its flexibility and power have made 8D valued for boosting quality, improving customer satisfaction and staying ahead competitively no matter the market.

The Eight Disciplines methodology remains a strong tool for companies serious about excellence, innovation, and customer focus.

By wholeheartedly embracing this robust framework and blending it with modern quality practices, businesses can expertly handle complex problems. They can also unlock fresh opportunities and build the foundation for sustainable success.

In other words, don’t sleep on 8D corrective action problem-solving. Its fact-based, team-centric transformation approach strengthens any organization now and into the future. offers both Live Virtual classes as well as Online Self-Paced training. Most option includes access to the same great Master Black Belt instructors that teach our World Class in-person sessions. Sign-up today!

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six sigma problem solving methods

May 13, 2024

How Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute Empowers Black Women

Joy E. Mason founded Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute in Indiana to make Six Sigma training and certification more accessible.

The Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute was founded by Joy E. Mason in spring 2021 as an offshoot of her Optimist Business Solutions company in response to the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. Since then, the institute has grown into a space for Black women and Black Latinas to increase their skills and impact their communities. 

Six Sigma certification aims to educate individuals in process analysis and outcome evaluation to minimize waste and defects. Certification levels range from basic end-user proficiency to mastery, where individuals serve as senior members in quality control, according to Investopedia.

According to its website , the Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute (SSREI) seeks to make Six Sigma training more accessible for two groups of women who are constantly underrepresented. “Black women and Black Latinas are under-represented in the Six Sigma community because they are commonly under-exposed to this training and its benefits. Six Sigma training is also costly. In addition, the Black community is oftentimes the most harmed by inequitable policies, resulting in low education attachment, poor health outcomes, and high unemployment.”

The SSREI continues, “Our goal is to upskill Black female professionals with Six Sigma green belt training and certification. This training will equip Black women and Black Latinas with the strategies and tools for complex problem-solving in the workplace and the community. We believe that Six Sigma is an ideal method for combining community voice, process thinking, and data analysis to tackle racial inequities across sectors.”

The Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute has announced their fourth cohort. Led by Joy Mason, president and founder of Optimist Business Solutions, SSREI aims to provide Black women in the Indianapolis community with leadership skills to solve community and workforce issues. — Indianapolis Recorder (@IndyRecorder) April 29, 2024

Mason told the Indianapolis Recorder that an catalyst for her initiative was the desire to help both women and the Black community.

“A number of factors divinely came together in 2021,” she said. “My love of continuous improvement, my enthusiasm for supporting women, my commitment to the Black community, an obsession for equity and my anger over George Floyd’s murder culminated into an urgent desire to step up. I believe God wanted me in this current role to address equity in this way—an institute that empowers and teaches women how to leverage Six Sigma for our communities and our workplaces.”

Mason noted that the program has so far been a tremendous success, and is an example of what can happen when a serious investment into the careers of Black women is prioritized. 

“Of the previous participants surveyed, 67% stated that they received a pay raise since completing the Green Belt program, and 33% noted that they had received a promotion.” Mason told the Recorder . “After completing the program, 33% of participants noted they received a salary increase of more than $10,000, while an additional 44% received a salary increase of $1,000-$9,999 since completing the Green Belt program.”

Mason continued, “In a post-program survey of SSREI’s most recent Green Belt cohort, 100% of participants responded they gained new or increased problem-solving skills. 92% of the cohort participants said the program met or exceeded their expectations regarding improved leadership confidence. These findings are important to SSREI’s work and equity in central Indiana. Ensuring pay equity for Black women is a critical imperative in the pursuit of justice and equality. Closing the wage gap is not only a matter of fairness but a key step towards dismantling systemic discrimination.” 

Mason said her primary source of satisfaction comes from seeing Black women win. 

“Our participants win by gaining additional leadership skills, employers win from the additional capacity that we provide to address equity gaps and communities win because we equip employers to work and serve more equitably,” she said. “Most of all, I want our Black women to experience professional and personal transformation. The bump in salary from applying their news skills is an added bonus!”

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