Methods and Tools

We all make improvements every day using our experience, skills, and intution.  Sometimes it is easy to improve a process, but other times it is not, because:

  • We do not have the time to stop and figure it out
  • We do not really know the whole process because we only do part of it
  • So many people, departments, steps, forms, etc. are involved
  • We have been doing it this way for so long, we have forgotten why it works
  • We do not have control over changing everything, and it is not clear who does


In these cases, we need a new way to look at what is happening, figure out what to do, and implement changes.  That is where these methods and tools help.  The method used to improve processes is called DMAIC, and it is organized into these five steps:

  • Define:  Describe exactly what you are trying to do
  • Measure:  Figure out how well your process works right now
  • Analyze:  Understand why the process is working this way
  • Improve:  Identify the best way to make the process better, test it, fine-tune it, and implement it
  • Control:  Make sure the process does not revert back to its original state


This method is not unique to Notre Dame.  In fact, it is used by numerous organizations across various industries.

As part of the DMAIC method, we use specific tools to help us at each step.  Some of the tools used include:

  • charter to describe what you are trying to do (what process will we improve, who will be on the improvement team, what customers are saying about the process)
  • process map to show how the process works (number of process steps, where the steps happen, how long everything takes)
  • run chart or time order plot to show trends in the process over a period of time
  • histogram to show the variation in a process
  • cause & effect diagram to show why it works that way