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What problem would you like to fix? The Define Phase is the first phase of the Lean Six Sigma improvement process. In this phase, the leaders of the project create a “Project Charter,” create a high-level view of the process, and begin to understand the needs of the customers of the process. This is a critical phase of Lean Six Sigma in which your teams define the outline of their efforts for themselves and the leadership (executives) of your organization.

Define the problem by developing a “Problem Statement”

Confirm the process is causing problems.

At this stage the team should have access to some existing data that shows an ongoing problem. They will refine the data during data collection, but they must confirm that there are indications of an issue.

Confirm the problem is high priority and will have a high impact.

Having established the existence of a process issue, the team must create a Problem Statement. The Problem Statement includes:

  • Severity: How big is the problem? This can consist of the percentage of the time there are errors, the number of late orders per month, etc. Be specific to put data into perspective. Specific data may not be available right away, so the team can fill in the blanks later during the Measure Phase.
  • Business Impact: What is the pain felt by the business or why should anyone care about the solving this issue? Will solving the problem result in greater revenue or cost savings?
  • Specific Area: What department or what units are involved?

Confirm resources are available.

Are there people close to the issue who can spend time working on the issue? Is there someone in a leadership position who would like to see the issue resolved? It is critical to have some form of team leader (also known as a Black Belt or Green Belt), as well as someone in a leadership position, who is called a Sponsor or Project Champion, involved with the project. Team members can come from different areas but should all have some connection to the project area.

Define the goal by developing a “Goal Statement”

The Goal Statement should be a direct reflection of the Problem Statement. For example, if orders are 10% late, then the goal might be to cut that down to 5% late. This statement defines measurable, time-bound terms of exactly when the team and project will be considered successful.

Define process by developing maps of the process

The team begins with the a bird’s eye view of the process, also known as a high-level process map. The classic tool here is called a SIPOC which stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers. This initial one-page document is used throughout the life of the project.

Once the high-level map is completed, the team can choose a key area of the process to conduct a deep dive into more process detail. This is called Detailed Mapping. This can be done in lanes representing departments, or it can be done as a simple flow-chart.

Tools: SIPOC and Deployment Map

Define your customer and their requirements

The focus of each project is the customer of the process. The customer is defined as the individuals or groups who receive the goods or services of the process. Customers can be external to the organization or an internal component of the organization.

During the Define phase, the team must contact customers to better understand their requirements of the process, or the “Voice of the Customer.” After interviewing or surveying customers, the team must translate that information into measurable requirements that will give the team insight on how to improve the process or solve the problem.

What’s next?