“Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail” -Chinese Proverb
The first stage of the DMAIC continuous improvement cycle is to define the problem (“Define”). In general, this phase often tends to be undervalued since the result is intangible and doesn’t provide improvement solutions. If you want to execute a successful improvement project in your company, which is focused on satisfying the needs of your clients, it’s better for you to start appreciating the importance of this phase.
In order to have the expected return of the improvement projects, they must be aimed at satisfying customer needs. This means that the next step cannot be taken if the customer is not truly understood by the company. In this phase we achieve:
- Understand the problem by listening the customer´s voice.
- Translate the requirements into critical to quality variables (CTQ) or dependent variables (y). The objective of any improvement project must be focused on improving these dependent variables. (y = ax1 + bx2 + ... + e).
- Gain understanding of the project and the process, determining the independent variables (x1, x2, ..., Xn) that affect the results expected by the clients. (y = ax1 + bx2 + ... + e).
- Explicitly determine the problem, objective, project team, scope, and project execution time.
Tip: The team must have a professional capable of leading improvement projects. By capable it must be at least a Green or Black Belt certified person. In addition, it must be ensured that the project has the support of a member of the company's leadership team. That member will be known as the Project Sponsor.
Define the client and his requirements
Each improvement project must revolve around the client, which can be external and / or internal. The customer is defined as the person or groups of people who receive the product or service as a result from executing the process. During the define phase, the team must understand the company´s clients and their requirements in detail. Interviews, ethnographic surveys, data mining, etc. can be conducted to understand them better. Once the information is available, it must be translated into quantifiable requirements that provide the team with in-depth knowledge on how to approach the solution to the problem.
Statement of the problem
The most challenging part of solving problems is determining and choosing which problem to act on. In this phase teams should refrain from seeking an immediate solution to the problem. The best improvement projects are those that focus on improving customer satisfaction, making the problem a priority based on its high impact to the business.
The team should define a problem statement that includes:
- Customer impact: Determining the amount of impact on the quality dimension in which customers evaluate the product or service: reputation, aesthetics, replacement, service, durability, reliability, performance, characteristics or conformity.
- Severity: How big is the problem? If you have data, it is important to reflect the severity from the beginning. It could happen that the data does not exist. In that case, the information will be completed during the Measure phase of the DMAIC cycle.
Define the goal through the goal statement.
Once there is clarity of the problem, proceed with the objective statement, which should be a reflection of the problem statement. At this point it is recommended to do it in a SMART way (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Achievable and Time). The goal is not set in stone and can be adjusted once the root cause of the problem is determined in the Analyze phase of the DMAIC cycle.
Define the process by developing process maps.
The team should develop a general understanding of the process. There are different tools that can be used depending on the nature of the process, the problem, and the objective. For example, a SIPOC can be used to analyze suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers. Another tool that can be used is the Value Stream Map, which is very useful if the project is related to reducing cycle time.
Once the process has been mapped in a general way, the team must go through the process step by step in order to understand each stage in depth. During the tour, the team makes questions to those responsible for executing the different activities of the process. This to obtain a complete overview. The flowchart can be used to diagram the findings.
Report on the progress of the project
The team should update and report progress to the project sponsor on a regular basis. A useful communication tool is the A3 document, which is used to communicate the status of the project quickly and easily.
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