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What is Define Phase in Six Sigma?

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In this article

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Six Sigma has gained immense popularity as a process improvement methodology. It brings together proven techniques and tools for the evaluation and improvement of business processes or operations. The objective of Six Sigma practices is to bring down errors, variations and mistakes that lead to wasted money, lost time, and poor products.

DMAIC in Six Sigma:

The Six Sigma Methodology uses a five-phase process called DMAIC. This process expanded as Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control offers a framework for teams to follow when they intend to launch an improvement project. Organizations use this process for handling issues with existing operations. The role of each phase in this five-phase process is as follows:

  • Define – This phase defines the issue to be addressed
  • Measure  - This phase evaluates the extent of the problem and quantifies it with the data available.
  • Analyze – It uses a data-driven approach for finding the root cause of the issue.
  • Improve – The purpose of this phase is to put changes into place so that the root cause of the issue is eliminated entirely.
  • Control – This phase aims at maintaining the benefits achieved with the changes

You know what is Define phase in Six Sigma now. Yes, it defines the problem that should be addressed. 

5 Key Deliverables:

The Define phase is the initial phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC process. The deliverables of this phase are nothing but the objectives of the phase. Here are the deliverables of the Define phase in Six Sigma:

1. Process Map:

The first important deliverable of this phase is to comprehend what the project is all about. To understand the project well, we should have a complete understanding of the process. Once the process is understood, it will be possible for the teams to gain insight into the reasons for inefficiency. In turn, appropriate improvements can be made. It is possible to get deeper into the process with the help of tools like Standard Operating Procedures or Process Flowchart Process Map.

2. Project Scope:

Among the key deliverables of the Define phase in Six Sigma, the second deliverable is the project scope. The purpose of this deliverable is to identify the boundaries of the process area for improvement. It means gaining an understanding of where the process begins and where it concludes. This deliverable involves documenting a list of particular goals of the project, timelines, costs, tasks and deliverables.

In the Define phase, the project leaders are responsible for clarifying the scope and purpose of the project. They should be aware of the area of issue and the type of improvement to be made.

3. Stakeholder Identification:

This deliverable of the Define Phase of Six Sigma is to spot all the external and internal stakeholders served by the process. A stakeholder is a person or there can be a group of stakeholders for a particular project and they are impacted by the project. It is not that the impact should be negative at all times. It can also be a positive impact. Every process will have both external and internal stakeholders to whom it caters. Based on the type of organizational setup, the expectations of stakeholders and stakeholders themselves differ.

In the Define Phase of Six Sigma, project managers will have to spot all non-key and key stakeholders needed for supporting and sustaining the project and its improvement. Here, non-key and key internal stakeholders are the directors, managers, supervisors and your colleagues in the organization. Non-key and external key stakeholders are generally creditors, suppliers, customers and vendors of your organization.

4. Defining Stakeholder Requirements:

Defining the requirements of the stakeholders is yet another deliverable of the Define Phase of Six Sigma. Apart from spotting the external and internal stakeholders, it is the responsibility of the project manager or leader to spot their requirements, expectations and needs. Defining the requirements of stakeholders will have a couple of steps. They are:

  • Describing what customers expect
  • Spotting the feasibility and viability of the expectations to be met by the Six Sigma project.

5. Creation of Project Plans:

The creation of a fitting plan to complete the Six Sigma project is yet another key deliverable of the Design Phase of Six Sigma. Framing a plan to complete the project is generally one of the key elements of the project agreement. It can be exhausting as the plan needs to be comprehensive and complete from different angles. The project plan generally encompasses a cost/benefit plan, scope management plan, communication management plan, stakeholder management plan, resource plan, etc. 

Now, you know the answer to the question of what is Define phase of Six Sigma. After understanding the meaning and the deliverables of the Define phase in Six Sigma, it is time to understand the steps involved in the Define phase: 

Steps in the Define Phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC Approach:

1. Spotting the Issues:

Problems are those affecting the key performance indicators of your team or organization. Examples include factors that affect your organization’s revenue potential, cycle time, output, process capability, production costs and customer or employee satisfaction. When spotting the problems, you should frame them from the point of view of customers. The two key concerns related to processes that customers face are quality and lead time. So, issues with these two things should be spotted in the first instance.

2. Narrowing Down the Issue:

If you have spotted many issues, the next step is to narrow down the issues to address at the first instance. For this purpose, you will have to develop problem statements. These statements should explain the issue and its effect on the business in terms of dollars. From thereon, it will be easier for you to decide what should be addressed and what can be forgotten. In case, it is not making a huge customer value or financial impact, then, you can overlook a particular issue.

3. Spotting the Business or Dollar Impact of the Issue:

Let us consider that the issue you have spotted is with the quality. In this case, you might face a defect rate of 20% on the process for example. Further, let us consider that the defect and the rework for rectifying the defect cost $150 per defect. Also, let us consider that your organization produces 35000 products per annum. In this case, the defect rate of 20% will cost your organization around 1050,000 dollars every year.

Let us consider that another issue will cost around $200 per year and it is not a big issue. In this case, you need not have to spend time and resources investigating the issue.

In this way, you should spot the defects to address in this step of the Define Phase of DMAIC.

4. Project Charter Development:

Once the problems to address are identified, the next step is to develop a project charter. This is particularly a statement of scope for the project. It will outline what you are going to do and the process you are going to follow. It will also provide information about the people involved in the process and the timeframe within which you will achieve or complete the issue addressing.

5. Set your Goal:

Before you start any process, you should define the goal that you wish to achieve. Here, in the Define phase of the Six Sigma step, the goal can be anything like creating a product that is 100% free of defects, increasing accuracy, or making the product completely in different aspects. Your goal might be to improve the speed of the process. Otherwise, you can set goals such as improving the outcome of the product as a whole. When setting a goal, you should remember one thing for sure. The goal should be measurable. However, it should not restrict you from spotting the root cause of the issue.

You can understand how to set a goal from an example better. For instance, in a Six Sigma project, your goal can be to reduce the defects from 20% to 5%. Thereafter, you should modify it to the benefit of the business. For instance, when the defect rate reduces by 15%, your organization will get around 600 thousand US dollars as revenue.

Techniques to Use in the Define Phase to Achieve Six Sigma Project Goals:

You know what is Define phase in Six Sigma is and its importance. Now, it is time to spot the tools and techniques to use to achieve these goals:

  • PERT and CPM
  • GANTT Chart
  • Decomposition
  • Expert Judgment
  • Templates
  • Charter Negotiations
  • Customer Value Analysis
  • Kano Customer Satisfaction Levels
  • CTQ flow down
  • Quality Function Deployment
  • Team Experience
  • Historical Quality Information
  • Market Research Data
  • Benchmarking


Simpliaxis is one of the leading professional certification training providers in the world offering multiple courses related to Quality. We offer numerous Quality related courses such as Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Training,Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification Training, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification Training, Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Training, Six Sigma Fundamentals Certification Training and much more. Simpliaxis delivers training to both individuals and corporate groups through instructor-led classroom and online virtual sessions.


Now, you know the deliverables of Define phase in Six Sigma. At the end of this phase and before you move on to the next “Measure Phase” of DMAIC, you will be aware of who the end users or customers are for the particular product. Also, you will be aware of their requirements and their resistance issues. Above all, when you near the conclusion of the Design Phase, you will have a clear understanding of the objectives and scope of the project that encompasses deadlines, time constraints, and budget. From thereon, you can plan for the next phase of the DMAIC process in Six Sigma.

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