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Back to Basics: What's DMAIC?

There’s no shortage of jargon in Lean, Six Sigma, and process improvement. Some of the jargon is helpful, some of it less so. Quite a while ago, we started a series of posts we tagged Lean 101. We wanted to reduce the confusion and show you that Lean really can work in law. It’s time to revive Lean 101 and get back to basics.

For the next few months, we’re going to be looking at the 5-step approach we use in process improvement. It’s called DMAIC. It’s pronounced as if it were an actual word, duh-may-ick, and it’s one of the useful bits of jargon.

DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. It’s the core underlying structure we teach in our Boot Camps on Lean in law, and it's the approach that we use in every process improvement project with our clients. It ensures we (and they) identify and address the root causes of the process inefficiencies, wastes, and frustrations that prevent lawyers from delivering their quality services in less time and at less cost.

You start by defining the nature and scope of the process (Define). Then you establish your performance baseline (Measure) and work to identify the underlying reasons behind the inefficiency and waste in your current performance (Analyze). Next, you brainstorm for solutions to those root causes, prioritize your improvement ideas, and test them, before implementing the ones that work (Improve). Finally, you manage and sustain your solutions (Control).

At every stage, there are tools you can use and tasks, sometimes called tollgates, that you must accomplish.  

The biggest advantage to this structured approach to process improvement is simple. By following DMAIC, you can overcome the urge to jump right to a solution without understanding the root cause or even having a plan.

This is important for people working in law. We attorneys, and those who support us in our work, tend to be very results-oriented, because the pressure to deliver definitive answers or completed transactions is high. The problem is, when you apply legal, solution-oriented thinking to process improvement, you tend to focus on what you assume is the answer to what you think is the problem. You treat the symptoms, while the real cause lurks underneath, ready to raise its ugly head to cause you more problems another day. DMAIC slows you down. It ensures you’re thorough. It helps you target the actual problem…not the problem you think you have.

Some time ago, we came across a really simple way to think about DMAIC in law. We’ve adapted it slightly over time. I can no longer find the original source, but I believe it may have come from our friends at Borden Ladner Gervais, a Canadian law firm with a commitment to deliver excellent, efficient client service using Lean.

Every time you set out to improve a process in your practice, use DMAIC and approach it like this:

Define: what does the client want or need?
Measure: how do we work now to get that result?
Analyze: why do we do it that way?
Improve: how can we do it better?
Control: is our new process delivering what the client wants and are we following it?

Through a series of posts, we’re going to talk you through the DMAIC approach. You’ll learn about the tools and tollgates — and potential pitfalls — of each stage. Subscribe to our blog so you don't miss anything.

By the end, you’ll be approaching every process improvement project in a new way.

Stay tuned…In the meantime, feel free to contact us with any questions or comments you have, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We look forward to hearing from you.

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« DMAIC 1 - Define: What Does Your Client Want? | Main | Diving into Process Improvement »