12 Essential things you need to do in DEFINE stage of your DMAIC Project – Overview

12 Essential things you need to do in DEFINE stage of your DMAIC Project – Overview

This post covers the essential tools which should be used in DEFINE stage of your DMAIC project. But even before you start with any Lean Six Sigma project, there are 3 things that you need to be careful of.

What to do before you start a DMAIC Project?

First, it’s important that we identify the actual, precise problem that we wish to solve which will then translate into the right project.

Second, it is also imperative to pick up the right LSS methodology (DMAIC, DMADV, DFSS etc.,) relevant to solve the problem at hand. Not everything can be solved by every methodology.

And third, scope the project. The scope should not be so narrow that no one feels the impact of your project and should not be too wide that you can’t handle it.

Please look out for my posts on project selection, project scoping and on various LSS project methodologies for more details. This post will cover the Define stage tools at an overview level. I will write a detailed post for each tool mentioned below which you can refer to for more details.

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So here are the deliverable of Define stage of a DMAIC project

  1. Voice of Customer (VoC)
  2. Kano Model
  3. Threat Opportunity Matrix
  4. CTQ Drill Down tree
  5. Project Metric definition
  6. Current Metric performance – Baseline
  7. Project Charter
  8. Key Stakeholders – ARMI
  9. Stakeholder Analysis
  10. Communication and Governance Plan
  11. Potential Business Impact
  12. Detailed Project Plan

When you are trying to solve a problem or drive improvements in your processes using the DMAIC methodology, you go through 5 phases. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control, in the same order. Define is the first stage and arguably, the most important stage in a DMAIC project. In this post, we will go through the various tools which we need to use in this stage and the importance / relevance of each of these tools.

As the name suggest, this phase defines all the attributes of your DMAIC project and lays down clear path that you will follow and objectives that you will achieve once this project is closed. Some of the questions that your define stage helps you answer, and should answer are listed below;

  1. What is the need for this project?
  2. What problem / business challenge are you trying to solve?
  3. What happens if you do not do this project right now?
  4. What happens if you do this project now?
  5. What is your project goal or objective that you wish to achieve?
  6. Who will sponsor you project and provide you with the necessary resources?
  7. Who will help you in this project? Who are your team members?
  8. Who are your stakeholders and are for / against this project? What do you need to get everyone’s buy in?
  9. How is this project going to impact the business outcomes for your organization?
  10. When do you target to close this project by? What is your project plan?

Below are the tools that you will need to use to answer the above questions.

1. Voice of Customer (VoC)

Your define stage, as well as your DMAIC project, should always start with a page about the Voice of the Customer. This is where you get to know that there is a problem, which needs to be solved. VoC is your customer stating the problem and the need to solve for it. It can be in form of a formal communication like an email asking directly to solve for it. It can also be a quote or comment made in a discussion or some forum implying the problem’s existence and the need to solve for it.

Important aspect here is to first understand who your customers are and pay close attention to what they are saying. Read my earlier post on how to identify your customers here. These can be your internal stakeholders, end customers using the product or services or the client process owners when you work for a third party BPM service provider. All the VoCs are important.

Put a page with screenshot of the note or any formal communication received, highlighting the need for solving the problem. Or put the quotes, comments on the page which talks about the problem, its impact and the need to solve for it. And off course the name and role of the people who said it. This gives you a strong starting point for the project and justifies why this needs to be picked up.

2. Kano Model

Kano model is a tool used mostly in product development to map relationship between a product feature and its related customer satisfaction. It essentially talks about all the proposed features of a product and how customer satisfaction will trend when each of these feature is moved from being not functional or absent to being fully functional.

This model can also be applied in service industry and in process improvements. We all know that improvements, specially when it comes to IT and System changes, cause resources, money, time, efforts and so on. And not all features or improvements suggested may necessarily add proportional value to the customers.

Kano model template for define phase of DMAIC project
KANO Model template for Define Phase

Kano model helps to differentiate such features and attributes in 4 categories. Must-be attributes or qualities which if present might not lead to customer satisfaction but if absent can cause severe dissatisfaction. One dimensional attributes or qualities which has direct co-relation with customer satisfaction. Presence leads to satisfaction and absence leads to dissatisfaction. Attractive attributes or qualities which are not usually expected. Absence of such attributes might not be noticed by the customer but presence will lead to extreme satisfaction. And Reverse attributes or qualities which if present might cause extreme dissatisfaction and if absent might please the customer.

You should evaluate the need for such an analysis in the define stage of your DMAIC project and include the same if relevant and if it can help you prioritize what aspects of the problem you wish to prioritize for resolution.

Download my latest eBook – Lean Six Sigma Acronyms

Contains 220+ LSS acronyms and abbreviations, a handy reference guide for all LSS Practitioners. And its FREE!

3. Threat Opportunity Matrix

Threat Opportunity matrix is one of the most simple and amazingly powerful tool that is taught widely in almost every management course right at the start. It is also referred to as SWOT analysis and is used as a strategic framework to evaluate an organizations competitive advantage.

From an LSS project perspective, this framework can be used to look at the short term and long term threats that your process / function / organization might face if the problem at hand is not solved for. And the short term and long term opportunities that will come up if you solve this problem right away.

This analysis will put in perspective what you may loose as against what you may gain by either not doing or doing this project and thus, provide another robust justification for picking up the project.

Just to re-iterate, its extremely important to justify the need for the project you are picking up, right at the beginning (Define stage of DMAIC Project), from a change management perspective, for you to be able to get the required support and resources for successful completion of the project. Maximum LSS project (GB, BB and MBB projects), fail because the problem picked up was either not actually a problem at all, was not relevant, or was not needed to be solved.

4. CTQ drill down tree

CTQ refers to Critical to Quality. It essentially means the project metric that you are trying to move (improve). Drill down tree refers to the relation between your project CTQ and the business level metric or CXO metric.

Every metric that you pick up will have an impact on one of the higher level metric which in turn will impact the next level metric and so on so forth till you reach a CXO level business metric. Your project metric is also known as Project Y and the business level metric or outcome that it will eventually impact is called the Business Y.

CTQ Drill Down Tree template for Define phase of DMAIC project
CTQ Drill Down Tree template for Define phase

Showing this linkage and relationship between project Y and business Y helps you garner interest from the organizations leadership as they care about the business outcomes more than an individual process metric. Once you shown the extend by which your project will improve working capital of the company, for example, I bet your CFO will help you with everything needed to close the project at speed.

5. Project Metric Definition

A DMAIC project is about improving the performance of a process and this performance is measured by a Metric. Usually, you, and most people who will look at your project documentation, might be familiar and well versed with the Metric that you have picked up for improvement. In such cases it would seem a waste to define the metric. However, this step is of immense importance to reduce something called Measurement System Variation in your data that might crop up at a later stage. More about Measurement System Variation in another post.

In addition to prevent measurement system variation to get into the data, Project Metric definition plays an important role in letting everyone, project members and others, know what we are focusing on. It should have a clear granular definition of what the metric is, what the operational definition of the metric is and how exactly you will calculate the metric. Its also recommended that you put the sources of data that you will use to calculate this metric, the frequency of such data collection / extraction, people who will provide this data and detailed steps on calculations with an actual example. This will ensure that everyone involved has the same understanding of the metric and how to calculate it.

Related Post : What are measures of Variation?

Once defined, you should follow the same method to collect data and calculate the metric value throughout the project without any deviation. Specially in the define stage and control stage of your DMAIC project.

Download my latest eBook – Lean Six Sigma Acronyms

Contains 220+ LSS acronyms and abbreviations, a handy reference guide for all LSS Practitioners. And its FREE!

6. Current Metric Performance – Baseline

Now that you have defined the Metric and have also defined how it will be calculated, its time to actually calculate the metric for a defined measurement period and arrive at the project metric Baseline. This denotes your current performance, where you are.

Your baseline period or measurement period should be large enough to have sufficient number of data points and should account for any volume spikes, seasonality and similar process / metric specific nuances.

Its a good practice to show visually represent all these data points on this page. The current performance should be the mean or median of these data points, depending on the distribution that this data set follows.

7. Project Charter

You must have heard the term Project Charter a lot of times in context of not just LSS projects but any projects in general. It is a page which clearly defines many important aspects of a DMAIC project and is something that you will use to get buy-in from your key stakeholders, specially the ones who need to approve initiating the project and provide required resources (champion and sponsor)

Project charter constitutes of various elements, which can vary depending on the organization you work for or the methodology that you are following or simply the taste of your project mentor. However, there are 7 elements that are vital for constructing a meaningful project charter and should always be incorporated. These are Business case, problem statement, goal statement, project scope, project schedule, project team and potential impact that you estimate to generate by this project.

Project charter sample template for Define stage DMAIC project
Project Charter Sample template

Business case should briefly talk about your business and process and point towards the high level problem that you are facing which needs to be solved. It should also describe why its a problem and why it needs to be solved right away.

Problem statement should quantify the problem that you are planning to solve with hard evidence and data points and should also highlight the impact this problem has on your business, function or process. Again with numbers.

Goal statement is what you plan to achieve. A good goal statement should mention the project metric that you want to improve, the current performance or baseline of the metric, the target value of the metric that you wish to achieve and the timeline by which you wish to achieve your goal. Here is an example: “To reduce average time to write a post (metric) from 45 minutes (baseline) to 20 minutes (target) by December 2019 (timeline)

Your project scope should clearly define what activities, regions, processes, teams etc you want to keep in-scope and out-scope for your project. The schedule will define the planned start and planned end dates which should be filled in when you build the charter. The actual start and end date can be filled in as and when you start and end the respective phase. The project team members are key people who will help you in your projects playing various roles and provide the necessary support and resources. The business impact is either quantified annualized hard impact (dollar impact) or soft impact such as compliance, customer satisfaction or controllership, but has to be important enough to justify the investments in the project.

8. Key Stakeholders – ARMI

ARMI stands for Approver, Resource, Member of the team and Informed party. These are the roles that all your stakeholders will eventually plan during the project phases.

You should create a table to do this stakeholder mapping. List down all the key stakeholders for your project including the sponsor, champion, project lead, team members, mentors, specialists that you would use and any other stakeholder who might be directly or indirectly touched by your project. These names will go in the first column. The second column should be about the roles / titles of the stakeholders.

The next 5 columns will have the 5 phases of DMAIC, one column each as column titles. Once done, you will get a grid consisting of cells, each cell representing what role a particular stakeholder will play in each phase.

Populate these cells with A, R, M or I depending on the role you expect each stakeholder will in each of the project phases. An approver is the one who will need to approve the phase without which you cant move to the next phase. The resource is a specialist in any particular area whose expertise you will use during the project phase. A member is the person part of your project team who will help you do the actual project related work. And an Informed party is the one who needs to be consistently kept informed about the progress, challenges and next steps of your project.

Once this is done, it forms the core stakeholder list, the most important people for you to be able to successfully complete your project.

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9. Stakeholder Analysis

Once you have established the ARMI chart, you will know who your stakeholders are. But just knowing them is not enough. You also need all of them to be in favor of, or supportive of, your project. If they are not supportive, you will need to device a stakeholder management strategy to convert them from a detractor, or even from a neutral party, to a promoter of your project.

Remember, even a single key stakeholder, who is not aligned to the project objective or is resistant to your project can cause severe delay in project closure or might even lead to project being dropped. And hence this step is extremely important. I have seen so many GB/BB project owners ignore this key analysis and then suffer the consequences.

A simple way to do this is by mapping each key stakeholder you have on a fairly simple 5 points scale. Extremely against, against, neutral, supportive and extremely supportive. Thats it. You rate them based purely on your understanding of there stand. You will know this via various interactions you will have with them. This becomes their current position. Next is for you to decide where you want them to be (Someone is rated as ‘against’ and you need her to be ‘extremely supportive’)

At this stage you will know where each of them stand and where you need them to be. If there is a gap, you need to put together, and follow, a stakeholder management strategy for each such stakeholder to move them from their current status to where you want them to be.

You should have this strategy in place in Define stage of your DMAIC project and should target to implement the same before measure stage is complete.

Remember, this is an extremely sensitive information and should be kept confidential. None of your stakeholders should have access to this page / analysis and you should never share this page with your project documentation with anyone. Unless the project certifying panel explicitly asks for it. Imagine your super duper boss looking at a page which says he/she is extremely against your project. You get what I mean 🙂

11. Potential Business Impact

On this page you should quantify the benefit that you will realize once you improve your project metric, achieve your target and close the project. This has to be dollar value impact on the business due to the improvement and should be directly attributable to the project metric.

In some cases, your project metric might not lead to hard savings or dollar impact for the business. It might impact satisfaction level of your customers/vendors, or improve compliance or controllership or might just help improve employee happiness index. This is OK as well. As long as the impact that you are generating is sufficient and important enough for your senior stakeholders to invest the required resources in your project, you are good 🙂

10. Communication and Governance Plan

This page should list down, at granular level, the various types of communication that you will send out regarding the progress of the project, the frequency of such communications, the audience to whom this will be sent, the content of the comm and the owner for sending out each of these communications.

You should also include a governance plan for your project. It should constitute the project team meetings, the internal stakeholder meetings, the external stakeholder meetings and the Steering Committee meeting. These meetings will help you talk about the progress you have made in the project, next steps, any challenges that you need help with, any resource requirements and so on.

A well thought out communications and governance plan religiously followed plays a very important role in stakeholder management, change management and resolving roadblocks, increasing the probability of successful completion of your DMAIC project. Specially when things are not moving. Over communicate.

12. Detailed Project Plan

This is fairly simple. You already have defined the project timelines when you put your charter together. It already has the planned start and end dates for each of the 5 project phases. The detailed project plan essentially is a double click on each of these phases and elaborate on detailed steps that you will do, with the timeline for each of the detailed steps. For example, in measure, you will collect data. So you mention data collection as a step and state the start date and end date for your data collection.

You will know all such steps that you need to take once you are well versed with all 5 phases in DMAIC. I will also put together a sample detailed project plan template sometime later for you to use.

Wow! You made it to the end of a 3500 words post. Great Job!

So now you know the 12 essential steps in the Define stage of DMAIC project. Most of these steps deserve a dedicated post as there are many aspects that need to be understood to do it right. I will surely write about them separately and link it here. So do keep checking out.

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