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Common Mistakes While Formulating a Six Sigma Problem Statement

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 3/21/2011

The Six Sigma problem statement forms the basis for the Six Sigma procedure and the key to successful implementation of Six Sigma lies in avoiding the common mistakes that many quality teams make while formulating the problem statement. Here, read more on formulating the Six Sigma problem statement.

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    What Is the Problem Statement?


    The Six Sigma problem statement is a clear, concise, and specific definition of a problem or an issue that needs improvement. It addresses aspects of the problem or issue such as the nature, symptoms, location, magnitude, and impact of the problem or issue.

    Six Sigma Teams that do not pay due attention to such key issues invariably make mistakes when drafting the problem statement.

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    Problem Identification

    The "Define" component of the DMAIC procedure of Six Sigma entails identification of the problem and formulation of a problem statement. Many Six Sigma teams fail to differentiate between these two distinct processes.

    The Six Sigma problem statement is the step that follows problem identification. The problem statement needs to convert the identified problem or required process improvement into precise terminology based on facts such as product or process type or the visible error encountered when running the process or using the product as well as the impact or the effect of such problems.

    Most problem statements identify and quantify the problem but do not specify the location or the stage of the process where the problem appears.

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    Many Six Sigma teams make the mistake of including all problems in a single problem statement. A good problem statement incorporates a single problem that causes multiple issues but not multiple problems, even if all such problems lead to the same result. Each problem requires a separate problem statement.

    Another important area of focus is the size of the problem. The success of the Six Sigma initiative mandates breaking down huge problems into smaller manageable projects at the stage of drafting the problem statement without waiting to do so at a later stage.

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    Six Sigma Problem Statement vs Six Sigma Mission Statement

    Many quality teams mix up the Six Sigma problem statement with the Six Sigma mission statement.

    The role of the problem statement is limited to identifying problems, and their symptoms. Assigning blame or offering possible solutions remain outside the scope of the problem statement. Possible solutions to the problems listed in the problem statements form the purpose of a separate mission statement.

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    Six Sigma Problem Statement vs Six Sigma Project Charter

    Many quality teams also confuse the Six Sigma problem statement with the Six Sigma Project Charter when the problem statement is actually a part of the project charter.

    The problem statement defines one particular problem in specific and measurable terms. Factors related to the problem such as establishing a project direction, defining the measures of success, role of team members in solving the problem, process templates, the linkage of the problem to the overall organizational goals, and the expected benefits, all come under the purview of the project charter.

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    The problem statement contributes to quantifying the problem in measurable terms and focusing attention on the problem.

    An organization might define one of its problems as "increase in customer dissatisfaction owing to increased product failure." Applying Six Sigma to solve the problem, the problem statement would read as "Ten percent of the software installed last month in client systems had to be reinstalled owing to system crashes. This has caused a 23 percent increase in service desk issues." The problem statement converts “product failure," a vague issue, into a specific “problem with software installation." The problem statement identifies the hitherto unspecified location as “client systems." The problem statement also indicates the size of the problem as 10 percent of the total work of the previous month and quantifies the impact on the organization as a 23 percent increase at the service desk.

    The more specific the Six Sigma problem statement, the better the chance for the quality team to solve the problem.

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    • Breyfogle, Forrest, W. III (2010). Lean Six Sigma Project Execution Guide: The Integrated Enterprise Excellence (IEE) Process Improvement Project Roadmap, Citius Publishing.
    • Pyzdek, Thomas. Six Sigma and Beyond. Defining Six Sigma Projects. Retrieved from

    Image by N Nayab

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