In a global scenario as competitive as the current one, businesses constantly are looking at different ways to guarantee high quality processes and, at the same time, to meet customer requirements. Among the existing process improvement methodologies available so far, both pure and hybrid methodologies have gained considerable recognition, as for example, Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), ISO 9000 and many others.
One particular process improvement methodology that has evolved over time and is helping businesses to optimize their processes is the so-called Agile DMAIC methodology. In this article you can learn more about the Agile DMAIC methodology and how it can be integrated with the Kanban method in order to support problem solving and process optimization.
Before getting into more details about the Agile DMAIC methodology and its integration with the Kanban method, let’s start by reviewing the main concepts behind the Agile DMAIC methodology, namely, the Lean Six Sigma methodology and the Agile project management approach.
Lean Six Sigma methodology
The Lean Six Sigma methodology has been developed by combining the concepts and tools derived from two complementary methodologies: Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. The Six Sigma methodology aims at reducing process variation and defects whereas the Lean principles are primarily associated with eliminating wastes and improving process flow to enhance the process performance under investigation.
At the heart of the Lean Six Sigma methodology lies the five-phase DMAIC method, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Despite being a customer-centric process, data-driven and allowing good results, the DMAIC method sometimes lacks velocity, that is, process improvements typically require a high amount of time to be achieved.
Additionally, DMAIC projects often follow a traditional waterfall-like project management approach and are associated with one-and-done projects, that is, once the predicted improvements are achieved, the project ends. If you want to know more about the particularities of the DMAIC method and its relationship with the Kanban method.
Agile project management approach
The Agile project management approach consists of applying agile practices to project management, in other words, instead of considering the project only as a whole, the project is divided into small incremental parts. Thus, each small part of the project is carried out in a shorter schedule by the project team. The constant participation of the client is another highlight which enables the project to be aligned with the client’s requirements. Many Agile project management approaches are available, for instance, Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF), Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum being the most notable.
Agile DMAIC methodology
Agile DMAIC is a hybrid continuous improvement methodology based on the union between the operational excellence methodology Lean Six Sigma and the Agile project management approach, usually using the Scrum approach. The synergy among Lean Six Sigma and the Scrum Agile project management approach allows it to deliver more value to clients and supports the search for solutions to critical business problems.
In this context, the Agile DMAIC methodology can be understood as an adaptation of the five-phase DMAIC method to deliver efficient and simplified execution as well as optimized results. More specifically, it consists of a four-phase process as schematically shown in the figure below.
- The first step of the Agile DMAIC methodology consists in evaluating the current situation and planning the project. This includes important activities, as for example, the definition of the main problem to be addressed as well as the main objective, scope, team members and the schedule related to the project.
- The next step of the methodology refers to the definition of main process output metrics which must be measured and analyzed. In this step, both the current and future states of the process should also be detailed.
- Having successfully completed the previous steps, one can now improve the process through appropriate solutions that must be also validated. Here is where the first level of improvement is delivered, and its statistical impact verified. This is accomplished by means of specific Agile project management approaches (for example, Scrum) through iterative sprint cycles carried out by the project team. In this case, a typical sprint process (composed of the stages plan, implement, review and test) is followed in order to afford the first improvement level.
- In the last step of the Agile DMAIC methodology, the project team continues to deliver incremental improvements until they achieve the project goals. For that, further sprints are carried out before ending the project.
Agile DMAIC with Kanban
Combining the Agile DMAIC methodology with the Kanban method allows you to take the best out of two thus leading to process optimization. This is possible as the nature of both Agile DMAIC methodology and the Kanban method suggests you take the process as it is and make incremental improvements over time.
Whereas the Kanban method recommends you visualize your process on a digital Kanban board by splitting distinct process stages at different columns of the board, the Agile DMAIC methodology affords you the necessary process steps to follow in order to get an effective process. Therefore, the process steps previously shown in the figure above can be interpreted as the columns of your digital Kanban board. You can easily apply and visualize the Agile DMAIC approach using a Six Sigma DMAIC process Kanban board template.
As soon as you set up your digital Kanban board, it is possible to start filling it with Kanban cards designating specific tasks, define WIP limits for each process step, track progress and analyze the process flow by means of specific Kanban metrics, thus enabling continuous process improvements.