Objectives of Define Phase
During the Define phase of a Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) project, the project leaders are responsible for clarifying the purpose and scope of the project, for getting a basic understanding of the process to be improved, and for determining the customers’ perceptions and expectations for quality. Also important are establishing realistic estimates for timeline and costs. All these things will ensure that the stakeholders are all on the same page regarding what is going to be done and how to evaluate the project’s progress and ultimate success.
In some companies, a great deal of work is done prior to chartering a new DMAIC project, so that everyone involved is already aware of the need for the project and is sure that the project warrants the DMAIC treatment. In other environments, however, confirming that a project is suited for this model is also part of the Define phase.
Some things to watch for when assessing a project’s suitability for DMAIC:
• Is data available or easy to obtain?
• Does leadership support exist for improving this process?
• Is DMAIC really needed or is this a “just do it”: a problem with a known solution that should just be implemented?
• Is the team trying to boil the ocean or is the scope reasonable for chartering as a DMAIC project?
• Is the process directly related to a key outcome such as profitability, customer satisfaction, or employee satisfaction?
Roles and resources also need to be clarified up front to avoid misunderstanding. The Process Owner, Project Leader (usually a Black Belt or Green Belt), and the Sponsor/Champion need to be clear on what is expected from them, how they will communicate, and how decisions will be made. Team members and their supervisors will need a realistic estimate of how long their participation will be needed and how many hours per week they are expected to spend on project work.
The key tool for Define is the Six Sigma project charter. It should contain the standard information for a project management charter, such as purpose, scope, roles, budget, and expected outcomes. In addition, it is common practice with DMAIC projects to estimate the timeline for each phase, and to provide basic statistics that are already available and relevant to the project. This data may include the baseline cycle time or satisfaction rate, or even the baseline process sigma if it is already known.