Laying the Foundation: Understanding the Define Phase of the DMAIC Methodology

What is Define Phase in Six Sigma's DMAIC?

In Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology, the “Define” phase is the first step and serves as the starting point for any improvement project. Here, in this phase, the main objective is to clearly define the problem or opportunity that needs to be addressed. In addition, the project’s scope and objectives are also established. Further, this phase sets the stage for problem-solving and aligns subsequent steps with strategic objectives. Thus, this phase lays the groundwork for the rest of the DMAIC process. 

define phase

What are the key activities in Define phase?

1. Project Selection:

The Define phase involves identifying projects that align with the organization’s strategic goals. But such a project must also have the potential to deliver significant improvements (in quality, efficiency, or customer satisfaction). Therefore, it is essential to choose projects that are relevant to the organization’s overall mission and objectives. This would, ultimately, ensure that improvement efforts contribute to the organization’s success.

2. Project Charter:

Creating a Project Charter is a fundamental step in this phase. The Project Charter essentially outlines the project’s purpose, scope, objectives, goals, resources required, anticipated timeline, and key stakeholders. It also serves as a formal authorization and helps gain leadership support for the project.

3. Problem Statement:

A well-defined problem statement explicitly describes the issue or improvement opportunity. Problem statement also emphasizes the impact on customer satisfaction, quality, cost, or other metrics. A clear and measurable problem statement enables the project team to focus on root causes and thus achieve tangible results.

4. Voice of the Customer (VOC) Analysis:

For the success of any process improvement initiative, understanding the customers’ needs and expectations is vital. The VOC analysis primarily involves gathering feedback from customers through surveys, interviews, and other data collection methods. This information further helps to identify critical-to-quality (CTQ) factors and establishes the project’s customer requirements.

5. Stakeholder Identification:

Understanding stakeholders’ needs and expectations helps ensure project success and smooth execution. Therefore, in the Define phase, it is important to identify and engage with stakeholders who are affected by or have an interest in the project.

6. Current Process Mapping:

The Define phase also involves mapping out the current process that is relevant to the project. Through process mapping, the team understands how things currently work and identifies potential areas for improvement.

7. Measurement Planning:

During this stage, the project team defines the critical metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).  They use this to measure the current process performance and track improvement progress.

8. Baseline Performance Assessment:

In this phase, the project team collects data and performs a baseline assessment of the current process performance using the identified metrics. This also establishes a benchmark against which future improvements will be measured.

9. Project Kickoff:

Once the Project Charter is finalized and the project objectives are clearly defined, the project is officially launched, and the project enters the execution phase (Measure).

What are the key objectives of the Define phase?

  1. Project Scope Definition:

    Establishing a clear and well-defined project scope is crucial for the success of the improvement initiative. During this phase, the project team works to understand the boundaries and limitations of the project. They also set specific parameters for what will and will not be addressed. 

  2. Stakeholder Alignment:

    In the Define phase, stakeholder alignment is a critical objective. The success of any improvement initiative heavily depends on the support and involvement of various stakeholders. The project team identifies all relevant stakeholders who have an interest or influence in the project’s outcome. This also involves understanding their needs, expectations, concerns, and potential contributions to the project.

  3. Establishing Measurable Goals:

    Setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goal is a cornerstone of the Define phase. They provide a clear vision for the desired outcomes and thus enable the project team to track progress and measure success. Well-defined goals also serve as performance benchmarks.


The Define phase plays a vital role in laying the groundwork for successful process improvement initiatives. By establishing a project charter, defining the problem statement, conducting VOC analysis, and aligning stakeholders, organizations can set the stage for effective problem-solving. The objectives of the Define phase, such as defining project scope, aligning stakeholders, and establishing measurable goals, contribute to a focused and strategic approach to process improvement. By diligently implementing the Define phase, organizations can pave the way for the subsequent phases of DMAIC, leading to tangible results and enhanced operational excellence.

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