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DMAIC| Define Stage

What is it… In this first phase of the DMAIC six-sigma improvement cycle we ‘you’ve guessed it…’ define the project. This is the foundation of your six-sigma improvement project. If the project is not defined, unrecorded or not signed off, then your project is likely to be in high company… and fail.

How long should the Define Stage take?

A typical DMAIC Define Stage within a Six-Sigma project will last between 2-3 weeks.

What are the key steps… 

Step 1 | Identify and allocate the ‘Key People’ – At this stage the key roles are;

  1. The project Sponsor/Champion
  2. The project Coach
  3. The project Leader

Step 2 | Develop the Project Charter – This is a critical project document which gets updated throughout the DMAIC cycle. To complete the project charter you must first understand the problem; go to the workplace where the proposed project is focused and observe what really happens (Gemba Walk). The key components of a project charter are;

  1.   Hygiene components
    1. Project Title
    2. Project Manager Name
    3. Project Sponsor Name
    4. Project Start Date
  2. The Problem Statement – The What
  3. The Project Scope
  4. The Goal Statement – The Now What
  5. Voice of the Customer
  6. Deliverables – The Now What
  7. Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies (RAID)
  8. Financials – The So What
  9. Milestones
  10. Approval Members

Though the above covers a lot of ground it is important to keep this as a one page document and maintain consistency with your organisations approach. This will aid stakeholder familiarity.

Step 3| Gather Voice of the Customer (VoC) – After all what are you improving if not making things better for the customer? The following set of tools support this activity, VoC; Critical to Quality Trees (CTQ), Kano Model; House of Quality (see the Six-Sigma A-Z for an introduction into these).



For each phase of the DMAIC project it is beneficial to document each step to a structured framework. This is called storyboarding and in the beginning commences with what is known as Ghost Decks. These are outline ‘slides’ which are produced and filled in as the project progresses. The rationale is to focus the data gathering which enables greater efficiency and keeps the project focused on deliverables.

Step 4| Define the Process – Understand which process the problem being resolved relates to. At this stage we are looking at the process at a relatively high-level and the SIPOC tool will be utilised.

A SIPOC is essentially a high-level process map, that presents easy enough for outsiders to get an understanding of the process and the key process elements:

  • S – The suppliers who provide the input to the process
  • I – The inputs
  • P – The operation performed on the input (the actual process)
  • O – The outputs
  • C – The customers who receive the outputs

Step 5| Project Management – This step includes the following:

  1. Establish the Project Team – Often the project team will come from across the organisation to ensure the right mix of knowledge and capabilities. Their engagement is paramount to the success of the project.
  2. Develop the outline project plan and the project structure
  3. Perform Stakeholder analysis
  4. Develop the Project working files

Step 6| Produce the Initial Business Case – A lot of the content for Initial Business Case (IBC) will be contained within the Project Charter.

Step 7| Approve the project charter and sign-off for next stage

At the end of the Define Stage the following will have been completed or identified: 

Problem Statement Initial Business Case KPI’s Defined Scope Goals Set
CTQ Trees Team Established SIPOC Project Milestones RASCI

Key Deliverables of the Define Stage

  1. Project Charter Completed and Signed-off
  2. High-level Process Maps (SIPOC)
  3. Critical to Quality Trees
  4. Initial Business Case produced


The Define stage is about the problems and issues – it is not yet at the solution stage, this comes later within the DMAIC methodology. It can be tempting when starting a project to ‘solutionise’ it is important the project Sponsor and Leader resist this and focus on the problems. If the solution is obvious then perhaps there is no need for a Six-sigma project.

DMAIC Define Stage FAQ’S

How long does the Define stage last?

Though each project is unique and by their nature then difficult to allocate set durations; the define stage is an exception. As a rule of thumb the define stage will last between 2-3 weeks.

Why do we need a Project Charter?

The project charter is a critical document and sets the direction, mandate and authority of the project.

It also acts as a concise executive summary of the overall project and brings all stakeholders onto the same page with regards to the project.

Ultimately, a successful charter can make or break the overall success of a project.

How detailed should the Problem Statement be?

This is a common difficulty for many projects – second only to those projects which write solutions to a problem rather than a problem statement itself!

So the key step is to ensure the problem statement is not being drafted for a problem where we know the answer and as such the project is not required!

Keep the Problem Statement clear and concise often no more than 3 sentences; circa 50 words. What is more important though, is the problem statement clearly defines the problem.

How do I set a Goal in the Define stage?

Setting a Goal within the define stage of a DMAIC project can be somewhat challenging as it’s the start of a project and there is a lot of work yet to be done. As with the Project Charter the Goal statement will be reviewed further down the line within the DMAIC stages.

Two options are available:

  1. State your current best estimate – which can be based on past or similar activities – Make it clear to be revised downstream
  2. Draft the overall Goal statement but place X’s for the parts unable to be estimated at this stage.
    1. Example – Reduce the number of Repeats for Call Line A from 22% to X% by the end of this financial year.

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