Last time, we talked about the importance of developing a consulting process, and I discussed a Six Sigma framework called DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) to help you install it. It’s tremendous to go through a structured process like DMADV to build a quality consulting service; however, you shouldn’t stop there — honing your consulting practice should be an ongoing concern. As you improve, the more you’ll benefit from doing this business and, by extension, enjoy your life more.

Now we’ll look at the more popular and established Six Sigma application called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), which is the formula for improving any process. Like DMADV, DMAIC is a structured sequence that we’ll follow to improve our consulting process.

Five phases of improving a process

#1: Define

You need to re-evaluate your business goals and specifically define what you want your improvement effort to produce. In the DMADV process, you defined some critical outputs for your practice; are the outputs still the same? Maybe it’s time to make a shift from 80-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks. As your priorities change, so will your process.

This is also a good time to take inventory of your resources. Who will be able to support you in your improvement efforts? Make a detailed list, and put it in your improvement plan.

#2: Measure

You must clearly define how you’re going to measure success. In Six Sigma, each measurement (input and output) has an operational definition. These are clear descriptions of exactly what each measurement means. For instance, when does your lead follow-up after the process starts; is it when the lead comes in, or when you start working on it? If the elapsed time for the lead’s follow-up is important to you, this distinction is important.

You should also baseline the current performance of the consulting metrics you’re trying to improve. Pay careful attention to how you collect your measurements for your baseline; you’ll need to follow the same process when you measure your improvement.

#3: Analyze

This phase in DMAIC is very different from the analyze phase in DMADV. In DMADV, the main focus of this phase is brainstorming; in DMAIC, the main focus of this phase is problem solving.

You should objectively explore the causes of your inefficiencies. For instance, you may suspect that interruptions slow down your coding process; so, you could keep track of every time you’re interrupted, and compare that against how many lines of code you produce. Be consistent, systematic, and objective. Don’t be surprised if your results are out of sync with your suspicions; this is the power of the analyze phase. I’ve been in a multitude of situations where conventional wisdom didn’t hold up to objective data analysis. You may find that you thrive on interruptions, and your productivity actually increases with frequent interruptions — you never know until you measure.

Resist the urge to fix things in this stage — just continue to test theories until you’re comfortable with your root causes.

#4: Improve

This is where you make your transformation. With your problems clearly identified, start constructing new processes to improve your consulting service, and systematically test them in the real world. If interruptions were validated as a root cause based on your analysis, try coding early in the morning when it’s quiet, or schedule blocks of uninterrupted coding time in locations where you aren’t likely to be bothered.

Again, be systematic and purposeful. Take your measurements in the same way you baselined your performance, so you can accurately and objectively see your improvements. Once you feel comfortable with your improvements, move on to the final stage.

#5: Control
This phase ensures your improvement has legs. Sometimes you’ll run across false improvements due to the novelty of the situation; when the newness wears off, you’re back to the old performance. Six Sigma practitioners use something called a control chart, which tracks your critical metrics over time to ensure things are performing as they should. You don’t need anything fancy like this, but you should take measurements on a periodic basis to make sure your process improvements stick.
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