The DMAIC Manifesto - Define Phase

The DMAIC Manifesto - Define Phase


The DMAIC method is a roadmap for solving complex problems.  It is the foundation of most Six Sigma projects regardless of industry.  In the DMAIC Manifesto, I described each phase of the DMAIC method at a very high level.  Today we’ll explore the Define phase in more detail.

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The two points of concern

Any continuous improvement project should be concerned with two points.  The first point is our baseline.  Where are we now?  The second point is our goal.  Where do we want to be at some point in the future?    

The Project Management Institute defines a project as being temporary.  It will have “a defined beginning and ending in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”  This is an important aspect of a continuous improvement project and must not be ignored.

By first defining where we are, where we want to be, and the time constraints we can now identify the gap between the two, the resources that we’ll need to accomplish that goal, and describe the scope of our endeavor.  A DMAIC project that fails here will be built on a poor foundation and is destined to fail.


Define the problem

Any problem worthy of a DMAIC project should be tied directly to the company’s strategic objectives.  The problem, or pain point, should be stated in plain language.  Describe how this pain point impacts each of the three major stakeholders (owners, employees, and customers)?  Clearly state how it is tied to the company’s strategy.  Document this in the project charter as the problem statement. 

Define the goal (the objective)

A DMAIC project is similar to a road trip.  If we fail to define our destination then we are destined to fail.  We must define early what exactly will be considered success.  It is imperative that the goal is SMART:

·         Specific: Define who is involved, what should be accomplished, where it will be done, why you are doing it, and which requirements do you have.

·         Measurable: Will you have a method to know where you are today and in the future?

·         Actionable: Is the goal within your ability to control?

·         Relevant: Is the goal aligned with your Why?

·         Time Limited: Set a specific date that the goal MUST be accomplished by.

The goal must help propel the company towards their strategic ideal.  The true beauty of continuous improvement comes from the never ending pursuit of unattainable perfection.  Any project that is not aligned with the company’s strategic ideal will be very difficult to sustain.

Tools, tips & tricks

Some tools that should be included in any define phase are the project charter, defect definition, SIPOC, and a communication plan.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list if tools, rather it should be seen as a basic minimum requirement of the define phase.

The project charter should include the business case, the problem statement, and the objective statement.  The business case describes how a project is aligned with the overall company strategy.  The problem statement will describe how the pain point impacts the customers, employees, and owners.  The objective statement will provide the SMART goal that the project is designed to accomplish.

The defect definition will describe, in plain language, a primary, secondary and consequential metric.  A primary metric will typically center on a hard, quantifiable number.  The secondary metric will often be a more qualifiable metric.  The consequential metric is the counter metric to the primary metric. 

Think of the consequential metric in terms of what you do not want to sacrifice to gain the primary metric.  For instance, imagine a situation in which you wish to gain revenue.  A consequential metric may focus on not losing profit margin while gaining revenue.

The SIPOC is an acronym for Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customer.  A great SIPOC will define the overall process to be improved in three to seven steps.  A common resistance to the SIPOC is that it may feel like an oversimplification of the process; however, any business can be summarized in three steps as shown in this services-based example.



A define phase must include a communication plan.  This will document how each of the major stakeholders will receive updates, when the team will meet, and how general communications should be handled.  It is best to define this early to ensure that all involved are kept informed.

The DMAIC method is anchored in the Define phase.  As stated in the DMAIC Manifesto the define phase describes where we are and where we are going.  In the next article I’ll explore the Measure phase.

Attila Dobai is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Project Management Professional (PMP).  He holds an Advanced Master’s Certificate from Villanova University in Lean Six Sigma with a special concentration in Business Analytics and Business Intelligence.

He has 14-years of experience in a Fortune 500 business leading international continuous improvement projects, programs, and portfolios.  He has been interviewed as a thought leader and written about continuous improvement in media such as the Gemba Academy podcast and the Colorado Springs Business Journal. 

Attila is available for comment on continuous improvement, business intelligence and analytics, and strategy execution.  He can be reached by e-mail: or by visiting