Six Sigma DMAIC – Define Stage

Define Stage

The purpose of the Define Stage is to define the problem, agree on the goals, and listen to the voice of the customer.

The basic steps in the Define Stage are to:

  • Develop Project name and Purpose
  • Complete the Project Charter
  • Develop a High Level Process Map
  • Identify the Process Owner, Champion, and Team
  • Identify Customers and Requirements critical to quality
  • Define Align Goals with Business Initiatives
  • Determine the Projected Return On Investment

The key project information is defined in the Six Sigma Project Charter.  The Project Charter is an informal contract that is created at the start of the project to profile the working arrangement of the project and the information that develops as the project progresses.  The main activities in developing the Project Charter include:

  • Define the problem statement
  • Define the project scope and reference data
  • Create deliverables to be measured against for success of the project
  • Identify and confirm the project stakeholders, team members, and timeline for the project
  • Have a commencement or kick-off meeting to describe the high level process being looked at in terms that the stakeholders and project teams can relate to
  • Agree to all the items above with the stakeholders, team members, Process Owner, and sponsor or Champion.

As you create the Project Charter, you will discover that some aspects will require more effort than others.  Thinking about the first two parts of the charter (defining the problem statement and project scope), you will need to define the problem statement so that it answers one simple question:  Why are we doing this?

So think of the issue you have decided to address – e.g., improving the speed in which a delivery gets to the customer – and then define the problem statement in terms of why you are improving it.  The delivery speed represents the current state. It may say, “We currently take 28 days to deliver goods to the customer. The need to reduce this period is required to help reduce the number of complaints by customers waiting too long for their products and to encourage customers not to cancel orders due to length of time for delivery. This is currently losing 15% of orders within 2 weeks of payment and costing $15,000 per week in waste of unwanted goods.”

The project scope can be identified as all elements of the delivery process up to the point of departure from the warehouse.  That can include placing the order, transporting the order details to the warehouse, packaging, transportation of goods on site, and collection arrangements.

All of the variables that can be timed and measured (i.e., base-lined) to show what currently happens need to be measured before looking at ways to improve them.  The overarching objective or goal from our example may be to reduce delivery times to 14 days, therefore reducing the number of cancelled orders to a lower level. This moves the working parameters from a perceived 3 sigma level to create failure, to a higher range of acceptable production and output before failure occurs.  

Sometimes, a project scope can be so wide ranging that it becomes difficult to define in terms of achievability.  
Our example above illustrates this well, because the variables have so much scope within themselves that each part of the system could be a project in itself.  A project led by a Green or Black Belt should not last for more than a quarter of a year (3 months); occasionally a month longer to allow sufficient control phase monitoring.

So, when defining the project, it is important to ensure that the expected activity can be achieved within that sort of time frame.  If not, then it may need to have its scope reduced to improve the results.

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