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DMAIC 2 - Measure: How do you work now to deliver results for your clients?

Welcome back to our series on DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), a structured approach to process improvement. We started the series with a general introduction and then dove into the Define phase.

In Define, you set the boundaries of your project and identified what your client wants or needs. Today we’re moving into Measure. Now you have to determine how you currently work to get (or try to get) that result.

The goal of Measure is to determine the current state of your process. You are looking for your actual performance baseline. Not how you think you do the work or how you think you should do the work, but how it actually gets done right now.

People tend to skip over this part, but you can’t improve what you don't know, and you can't demonstrate improvement unless you can show where you started from. Demonstrating success builds necessary buy-in.

First of all, the nay-sayers will need convincing. They will need to see how much time you’ve saved, how much overhead you’ve cut, how many fewer times you have to turn that draft agreement to get it right, or how much less frustrating the process becomes once it’s been improved.

Second, change is hard work. You’ll need to show (and celebrate) all your wins to keep your organization and your improvement teams enthusiastic and engaged. You can’t do that unless you can point to concrete changes for the better.

For one of our clients, the improvement team convinced the partners of the value of their improvement plan by demonstrating that one change alone would save about 25,000 sheets of paper (and the associated printing, shredding, and recycling costs) every month. The team knew the numbers and the cost. They measured.

So how do you work now to get the result for your client?

Map it out

Mapping is, hands-down, the most powerful tool for visualizing your process. Whether you are taking a high-level view through value stream mapping, or getting down to the nitty-gritty in a process map, you will learn more about the current state of your process by mapping it than by any other way.

For a great introduction to mapping, check out our recent webinar series. In Part 1 we give you an overview and introduce the SIPOC process grid (see also last week’s post on Define). In Part 2, we value stream map a litigation matter (defending an employer before the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in the US), and in Part 3 we dive deeper into one aspect of that EEOC litigation to create a process map of the settlement stage.

Use the Eight Wastes

Whether you map a process or not, you can use the Eight Wastes in the Measure phase to identify problem areas. Sit down with your team and talk honestly about frustrations, problems, and bottlenecks in your process. Create a list, or mark them directly on your map. Every pink sticky on this process map shows a place where the team found a waste.

 Go on a Waste Walk

Go to the place where the work is done. Even if it’s virtual work, look at the area where people are working. Speak to the people doing the work. Observe them. See what they do, how they do it, where they have to go to get information, documents, etc. If it’s appropriate, perhaps even time them. Most importantly, though, get their input. Your improvement team can't include everyone, so this is one very important chance to canvas the wider audience of people engaged in the process you're examining.

  • Where are their frustrations?
  • Do they have the tools they need (decent lighting, the right software, enough storage, a convenient printer)?
  • Have they created work-arounds to overcome problems, like:
    • keeping extra supplies on hand because the stationery cupboard is on another floor?
    • billing work to Misc because it takes too long to get a new file opened?
    • storing files in boxes under the desk because you don’t have an efficient archiving system?

Observe, ask, and listen. Remember, we are all very good at adapting to broken processes. Identifying and understanding those broken processes is critical in the Measure phase.

Create and Track Metrics

Once you’ve visualized that current state and started identifying the issues, you'll likely find you need more information—more data. It’s time to create a data collection plan and then determine your current performance baseline.

The information you collect will depend on the objectives you set in the Define phase of DMAIC. What does your client want? What is it you’re trying to improve?

Metrics don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes a simple tick chart on your desk is all you need to keep track of the number of turns of a document, or the number of times you receive a form that’s incorrectly filled out, or the number of interruptions you deal with every day. The key: choose metrics that support your improvement goals.

For example, if you want to improve the quality you deliver, look for ways to measure defects, rework loops, or client satisfaction. If your client wants faster turnaround, measure the overall time a process takes (for example, the time to draft, review, finalize, and send out an invoice) but consider timing some of the key individual steps so you can discover where the bottlenecks are. Look also at a rework metric like the number of turns of a document. Consider metrics that overlap. For example, rework indicates defects, but it also affects quality and time.

The data you collect can be overlaid on your process map to build a rich understanding of how you work, today, to deliver what your client needs. Once you understand your current state process, warts and all, you’re ready to move onto the next phase of DMAIC: Analysis.

If you don’t want to miss the next instalment of the DMAIC series: Analyze: Why do you work the way you do? subscribe to our blog.  For more information on metrics or anything else about using DMAIC to improve your practice, please contact us directly and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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