I’ve been developing materials for a series of client workshops on DMAIC. (It’s an acronym that stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. It’s pronounced “Deh-may-ik”…I think.) As I told the participants on the first day, I haven’t taught DMAIC before but I’ve taught other problem solving models and they’re pretty much all the same. DMAIC is the model of choice, it seems, for the Six Sigma set and if there is a difference between it and other problem solving models, it’s that DMAIC has a strong focus on the use of data collection and analysis…LOTS of data collection and analysis.
As I’ve been putting together the materials, I’m reminded that the most important step in any problem solving model is that first one: Define the Problem. Sometimes it gets represented as Define the Current State.
Most of the problems I’ve seen with problem solving teams can be traced back to ineffectively approaching that first step. On occasions when I’ve been asked to help teams that are bogged down, I start with the question, “What are you working on?” What I’m looking for is a clear statement, a clear description of the problem, the project, the improvement opportunity they are tackling. Too often, the answer to my question is…a blank look. Or a recitation of a bunch of disparate ideas as to the problem itself, what might be causing it, and what might be done about it.
This failure affects all sorts of teams. I’m working with a group that is developing a plan to lower chronic disease and obesity in the town (and surrounding region) where I lived a couple of years ago. The plan will be the core of a proposal for a substantial grant. My role is to facilitate the team and help write the grant.
I’ve gotten involved “mid-stream”; the group has been meeting for several months without making a great deal of progress. In looking over the meeting minutes, I can see that the team has, with excitement, been brainstorming lots of ideas as to what to do about obesity and chronic disease in the community. It has also spent time talking about ideas not at all related to the grant. It has spent time discussing the tactical details of some of the ideas before getting consensus as to whether or not those ideas should be part of the overall plan. At this point, the team is still motivated but is starting to get frustrated: it just “wants to get something done”.
The thing that the team needs to “get done” is to go all the way back to the beginning and develop a clear picture as to the Current State regarding chronic disease in the community. How bad is it? Is it getting worse, staying the same, or actually getting better, even without the team’s intervention? How does our community compare to other, similar communities? What programs and initiatives are in place within the community right now that seek to address chronic disease? Do other communities have programs and initiatives that have been proven effective?
Sometimes, it can be difficult to get a team to spend much time on this phase of defining the current state. Teams, even when they are just starting out, want to “get something done” and deliberations about the current state feel too deliberative. “We know what the situation is. We just need to figure out what to do about it,” team members will tell me. Generally, however, I find that each team member has his or her own idea as to what the situation is. Getting the team to develop a consensus description of the current state is vital.
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