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DMAIC| Improve Stage

What is it… The DMAIC Improve stage is where we get to mobilise and implement the improvements to our problems! This is where the change happens. Before, we head into delivery we will ensure suitable solutions have been considered, these have been prioritised and we select the optimum solutions with measured risk.

How long should the Improve Stage take?

For the improvement stage this is somewhat difficult to say, as it depends on the chosen solutions and the level of effort required to implement. So we can loosely provide a guide of  between 6-12 weeks but be mindful your project may necessitate a longer (or indeed a shorter timeframe). For instance a pilot could last for 4-6 weeks to build a decent sample size of data.

What are the key steps… 

Step 1 | Solution Generation – Here we ensure we have considered a range of improvements for the problem and critically tackle the root cause. There are many ways this exercise can be conducted and as with many stages of the DMAIC improvement process this is best done with groups of people.



At this stage don’t be constrained. The options will be refined through this DMAIC Improve stage, creativity is crucial to generating great solutions.

Step 2 | Solution Prioritisation and Selection – Having considered a range of potential solutions we now go through a process to select the ‘optimum’ solution for our problem.  We say ‘optimal’ as this covers a spread of considerations for the customer, the business and the employees. We utilise prioritisation to conduct this step. In most cases prioritisation is based on a 2 by 2 (or 3 by 3 matrix) and considers:

Effort – ‘how difficult will this initiative be to land?’ and may include a “do-ability” check.

Things to look out for include:

  • Is the change within the direct gift of the project team? Or do they need to instigate support from other functions?
  • Is the change within the sole gift of the organisation or are they dependent on external bodies to land the change? (this can often be the case with outsourcing companies)
  • How long will the initiative take to implement?
  • What is the cost of implementation?

Benefit – ‘what does the organisation benefit from this change?’. This benefit is often in monetary terms but can also be expressed in customer experience (an NPS result) or employee satisfaction.

Those initiatives which are high in benefits and low in effort are the sweet-spot. These are initiatives we are going to want to run with. There may also be initiatives which are low effort and low benefit – but we want to do them anyway. Rationale for this can be landing a quick win and thereby gaining momentum and support for your project. Colleagues and stakeholders can start to see tangible change and get fully the behind the programme. Sometimes these small things make a big difference to employees and shouldn’t be discounted.

Equally some items which fit within the high benefit but also high effort quadrant should be on our to-do list. These could be truly transformation change – think about an organisation commencing a robotics programme. These may need to be started early in order to ensure delivery. The advice we give here is to proceed but also look for either quick wins from the prioritisation exercise or quick wins within the high benefit high effort initiative.

Step 3| Risk Assessment– Now we do our due diligence and assess the initiatives for risk. This may also be considered within the prioritisation and selection stage. The purpose is to be aware of the risk, not to avoid risks at all costs. We can reintroduce our FMEA from earlier within the DMAIC cycle to support us here.

And it goes without saying, the proposed solutions are signed off by the relevant stakeholders of your project. This will ensure the improvement phase has the same mandate as the rest of your project – after all many projects are deemed a success if they are viewed that way by the stakeholders.

Step 4| Pilot and Implement – Now you have made it this far and we can start making the all-important changes! All the hard work throughout DMAIC will start to pay-off. Piloting is great technique to test new innovative solutions. Piloting can also be deployed to help manage risks and perhaps those stakeholders who require a little more convincing. 

Step 5| Gain Approval to move onto next Stage

At the end of the Improve Stage the following will have been completed or identified: 

Solution Generation Prioritisation Risk Assessment Project Planning Pilot Studies
KPI monitoring

Key Deliverables of the Improve Stage

  1. Solution Generation
  2. Prioritisation Matrix
  3. Project Plan
  4. Risk Assessment
  5. Implementation of Solutions
  6. Benefit Realisation Plan


Don’t fall into the trap of basing success on the defined steps being implemented. The purpose of implementation is to deliver sustainable benefits identified and success must be measured on this.

DMAIC Improve Stage FAQ’S

What is a PUGH Matrix?

A Pugh Matrix (named after Stuart Pugh) is a highly effective tool for decision making. It is also well deployed in situations where there are disagreements between departments as it focuses on the criteria/requirements to make a more fact based decision.

The Pugh matrix compares the different solutions against a standard base for each of the criteria being assessed. If a solution is deemed to be better than the base then a positive score is returned, if lower than the base then a negative score is returned. -2, -1, 0, 1, 2 is a common scoring criteria. Importantly each criteria is given a weighting as not all things are created equal. Therefore a criteria critical to success is given a higher weighting. The score for each solution by criteria is then multiplied by the weighting. These are then summed and the solution which comes out on top is the chosen solution.

What is Scamper?

SCAMPER is a Brainstorming technique utilised for identifying potential solutions. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute – Which parts of the product or service could you swap out to improve? Are there rules which could be substituted for others?
  • Combine – Can you combine process steps? Could you combine the output or put waste to good use in another product or service?
  • Adapt – How could the product or service be adapted to improve? Can you learn from other products or services and adapt the offering?
  • Modify – Can the product or service be modified in shape, look or feel?
  • Put to another use – Can the waste be utilised in another product or service offering? Can the product or service be enhanced by going into a different setting?
  • Eliminate – How could you eliminate the waste? Can whole steps or actions not be required?
  • Reverse – Could steps be completed in a different order would this remove the waste? How could the product or service be re-organised?
How detailed should the Problem Statement be?

This is a common difficulty for many projects – second only to those projects which write solutions to a problem rather than a problem statement its self!

So the key step is to ensure the problem statement is not being drafted for a problem where we know the answer and as such the project is not required!

Keep the Problem Statement clear and concise often no more than 3 sentences – circa 50 words. More importantly, the problem statement should clearly define the problem.

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