The Define Phase

The Define phase is the first phase of the Six Sigma or DMAIC methodology. It is probably the simplest phase but by no means unimportant. The direction your problem solving journey takes is very much dependent on this phase. Therefore, if the Define phase is not performed properly, the rest of the phases will either be meaningless or may lead you to wrong conclusions. It is extremely important that proper time and care is taken on the tasks in this phase to give your Six Sigma project the best chance of success.

Tasks performed in the Define Phase
The Define phase is where the problem statement and scope of project are defined and put down in writing. This process usually starts as a top-down approach where the senior managers have certain gaps that they see in their critical metrics and want to close those gaps. Those metrics and gaps need to then be broken down into manageable pieces for them to become projects.

Project scope needs to be tight and manageable. If the project scope is too big, it is quite likely the project will have an unsatisfactory outcome. We tell all our clients, "Do not try to boil the ocean." If your scope is as big as trying to boil the ocean, you will never succeed. Let's try boiling the water in a pot or a bucket, and then take it from there.

For example, the management of a large multi-national manufacturing company might have a target of total quality defects to be no higher than 1%. Currently, the quality level is at 4%. Since this is a large company, it may not be wise to assign a scope such as "Reduce total quality defects down from 4% to 1% by the end of 2011". This is probably too broad and we would likely require many projects to properly fulfill this scope. It may be better to first focus on the top 3 lines that are creating the most defects and start off with that as a project first. This limited scope will make the project much easier to handle and gives it a good chance of success.

The Define phase also requires all the project metrics (at least for the main outputs) to be in place. Baseline studies have to be conducted to understand the level the current process is operating at. Targets and goals also need to be set for the metrics. All goals should follow the SMART principle:

- S Specific
- M Measurable
- A Attainable
- R Relevant
- T Timely

Another important task performed in this phase is building the team. It is close to impossible to run a Six Sigma project alone without any support from a team. Team members should be carefully chosen for their knowledge and positions. Care needs to be taken that you do not end up with too many team members as this can be disruptive to the team dynamics. The core team should not have more than 5 to 7 people. You can always ask people outside of the core team for their expertise and knowledge. Not everyone involved in the process needs to be part of the core team. People in the core team usually have something invested in the project and are involved in the total life of the project rather than just certain parts of it.

Other tasks in this phase are things like calculating potential savings, calculating potential costs, setting timelines, and completing the project charter.

Some of the tools used in the Define phase…
Project Charter , Team Building, Capability Studies , Pareto Charts, Cost / Benefit Analysis, Gantt Charts

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