Where did "DMAIC" come from?

Let's give credit where credit is due.


Following is an updated version of a blog that I posted on this web site more than four years ago. I'm posting it again because I continue to encounter questions and confusion about the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) rubric and its origins.


About 10 years ago, the Quality Manager at one of my clients made an interesting observation.  She said, "TQM, TQL, TQC and now Six Sigma all include SPC.  Good stuff; nothing new.  They all include DOE.  Good stuff; nothing new.  They all include FMEA.  Good stuff; nothing new.  But DMAIC; that seems new.  Where did DMAIC come from?"

Flying home from that consulting visit, I pondered on the Quality Manager's question.  Everyone knows that the seeds of Six Sigma and DMAIC were sown at Motorola in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  Years before that, I attended several of Dr. Joseph M. Juran's seminars and was later invited to serve on his advisory committee for quality improvement in service industries.

Throughout the 1980's, Dr. Juran hosted annual "Impro" conferences in Chicago.  Thousands of people would travel there from all over the country to network and attend presentations about the application of quality principles and statistical methods in a wide variety of organizations and processes.  I was honored to be invited by Dr. Juran to present papers at several Impro forums.

Motorola's corporate headquarters is located in Chicago.  So, there was always a boatload of Motorola people in attendance at all of the Juran gatherings.  At the time, many companies were heavily into the Juran Sequence for Breakthrough, which he introduced in his text, Managerial Breakthrough, published in 1964.

I proceeded to ponder how Juran's sequence for breakthrough compared to DMAIC -- and vice versa.  The table below provides a side-by-side comparison of the two techniques.  Even a cursory review of this comparison makes it appear that the "creators" of DMAIC merely ripped off Juran's sequence, re-labeled a few of the steps, and ran with it.

Table.  Comparison of DMAIC and Juran's "Sequence for Breakthrough"

DMAIC SEQUENCE (1990's)                       STEPS IN JURAN'S SEQUENCE (1964)

Define                                                           Select and Define the Project
Define the project; establish "business         Define the project and establish "proof of the need" (i.e., prove to management the
case" (i.e., estimate savings)                        need to support the project)

Measure                                                       Organize for Diagnosis
                                                                      Define and collect data on key measures 

Analyze                                                        Perform Diagnosis
                                                                     Journey from symptom to cause

Improve                                                       Develop Remedies
                                                                     Journey from cause to remedy

Control                                                        Control at the New Level
                                                                     Hold the gains

I don't point this out to be cynical about Six Sigma or DMAIC.  To use the words of my client's Quality Manager, Juran's sequence is "good stuff; nothing new."  I just wish people would give Dr. Juran the credit he deserves.  I have met and worked with Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts all over the world.  They're all familiar with DMAIC; they're all advocates of DMAIC.  I have yet to meet a Green Belt or Black Belt, however, who has ever heard of Dr. Joseph M. Juran's sequence for breakthrough and its seamless connection to DMAIC.

Dr. Juran presented his sequence as a "project-by-project, problem-solving approach to quality improvement."1  If you have process problems, the Juran sequence provides a structured, step-by-step approach to attacking them. He never suggested that it was a key to survival in the new economic age.  It was not presented as a strategy for promoting innovation or implementing Point 5 of Dr. W. Edwards Deming's 14 Points for Management; i.e., "Constantly and forever improve every process."  In his practical nature, however, Dr. Juran offered his sequence as a way to solve process problems -- but certainly not for preventing problems.

According to Michel Baudin, "If you google 'Motorola + Six Sigma,' you learn that Motorola no longer teaches Six Sigma.  Given that Motorola was where Six Sigma was invented, the equivalent would be for Toyota to dump Lean.  Maybe it's time to dial down the Six Sigma training programs."2  An article in the Harvard Business Review echoed Baudin's observation:3

Looking beyond Japan, iconic six sigma companies in the United States, such as Motorola and GE, have struggled to be innovation leaders.  3M had to loosen its six sigma methodology in order to increase the flow of innovation.   As innovation thinker Vijay Govindarajan says, "The more you hardwire a company on [six sigma], the more it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation.  The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different."

It's no longer enough to be good at solving problems.  It never was.  DMAIC is not the key to survival in this new economic age.  It has not generated the innovation and creativity required at 3M, GE, Motorola and other companies that recognized the inherent limitations of Six Sigma, dropped it, and moved on.

To return to a point raised earlier in this essay, Deming's Point 5 reads, "Constantly and forever improve every process."  Don't wait for problems requiring a Six Sigma DMAIC project.  It's time to go back to the future; to study, understand and adopt Deming's principles and his "system of profound knowledge."  That will take us beyond the insufficient DMAIC project-by-project, problem-solving approach and shift effort and resources toward creating and sustaining a healthy work culture that fosters innovation and continuous, never-ending improvements in quality, productivity and competitive position.

Or, we can stick with Six Sigma DMAIC and continue to settle for mediocrity.  As Deming was fond of saying, "It's not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory."


1Joseph M. Juran, Juran on Quality Improvement, video series, Juran Enterprises, Inc., New York, NY (1981).

2Michel Baudin, "Six Sigma R.I.P.," http://michelbuadin.com/2011/12/09/six-sigma-rip/, December 9, 2011.

3Ron Ashkenas, "It's Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement," Harvard Business Review, http://hbr.org/2012/05/its-time-to-rethink-continuous/, May 8, 2012.

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