Problem-Solving Method: The D in DMAIC

Problem-Solving Method: The D in DMAIC

Problem-Solving Method: The D in DMAIC

this is article 2 of 5 in the dmaic problem-solving method series

The “D” in DMAIC stands for “Define.” The purpose of the Define step is to create a formal Project Charter that provides a high-level view of the relevant process, and begins to understand the expectations and experience of the process customers.

Let’s step back for a moment to talk a bit about group dynamics as we lay the foundation for the importance of this first step.

Typically, when a group gets together to discuss a problem, the team members get too “solution-oriented.” They focus on “how do we solve this problem?” rather than trying to better understand why the problem is occurring and how it is effecting the organization. This leads to ineffective modes of decision-making like voting or deferring to those in authority. It’s better that the team be divergent in its early approach and stay in the present. Ask, “What’s happening right now?” not, “What should we do about this?”

Voice of the Customer

In the Define stage, the team benefits by listening to the Voice of the Customer which consists of their needs and expectations. Not every problem has an easily identified “customer,” but this will help create a hypothetical situation. Listening to the Voice of the Customer can either include gathering data and input directly from customers or simply meeting to brainstorm about their expectations.

In listening to the Voice of the Customer, the team should consider three elements:

“Must Have” Attributes (Dissatisfiers)

 Dissatisfiers are those product qualities that must be evident for the customer to make a purchase. They don’t lead to satisfaction when they are present but create dissatisfaction when they aren’t.

“Want to Have” Attributes (Satisfiers)

 Satisfiers are the attributes that are, to some extent, expected. The customer is willing to put up with an initial range of quality but could be willing to pay more for “more satisfaction.” Satisfiers are those attributes that customers are willing to pay more for.

“Would like it if I Could Get It” Attributes (Delighters)

Delighters are the attributes that add extra value. Customers don’t expect them when purchasing a service or product but are a pleasant bonus of something above and beyond what they paid for.

Consider these three elements to help define the problem more comprehensively. It’s important to spend some time defining customer needs, expectations, and describing any relevant product or service deficiencies.

Voice of the Process

Now that we have covered the “Voice of the Customer,” we’ll discuss the “Voice of the Process.”

Listening to the “Voice of the Process” has three elements:

  1. Map the current process: Often times, the work of a team is poorly coordinated with one another. This causes delays and errors, which result in rework and frustration. This can be avoided by mapping the current process which generates discussion that provides a foundation for improvement.
  1. Identify process performance metrics: While mapping the process, the team needs to assess how well its process performs. What’s the overall cycle time? How often does the process produce what the customer wants, when and how they want it without mistakes? What is the cost of correcting mistakes?
  1. Use the performance metrics to determine how the process is performing: The “Voice of the Process” is heard in the above metrics and tells us how well the process is being carried out.

Defining the Problem: The Project Charter

Although your team could move on to the Measurement stage as soon as it develops an effective definition statement, we’ve found that a team benefits from discussing a few more questions before moving on. The agreements that come from these discussions form the basis of the Project Charter.

Let’s look at the components of a Project charter on the following generic template:

Current State

This is the foundation of the Project Charter. The team should collaborate on a problem statement that vividly explains what they currently see happening, why it is important, and who is affected by it.

Future State

This is a short statement built off of your Definition statement that conveys what you’d like the situation to look like once the problem is solved. This is NOT the solution or the future state process map, rather a general statement of desired future conditions.

Project Scope (In/Out)

The team brainstorms and prioritizes the issues that are within the scope of the Project, and those that aren’t. Defining that second group is especially useful for avoiding the rabbit holes that a team can go down if it doesn’t first discuss what rabbit holes to avoid.

Constraints and Risks

The team highlights any obvious hindrances, issues, or “forces in opposition” to working on and getting a solution to the problem. This is done without going too far into depth.


A target completion date and any important milestones are appropriate here.

Stakeholders and Team Members

This could be a list of team members who might have important input to the project or will be affected by what is done to address the problem. Keeping track of roles will ensure that you haven’t overlooked any obvious possibilities.

We’ve found that a solid Project Charter keeps a team on track as they work through a problem. Move through it fairly quickly without getting bogged down on any particular component of it and it will serve you well.

Continue Reading: Read the next article in this DMAIC series to learn more about the problem-solving method. 

Six Sigma Training Program

Six Sigma Training Program

This improves the quality of a company’s outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects.

Get Started with Six Sigma


  • Liz Maier-Liu

    Liz Maier-Liu specializes in writing high-quality, engaging copy across all channels, including email, web, blogs, print, and social media. She is passionate about helping ERC build long-lasting relationships with clients and members through storytelling and delightful copy that calls them to action.Since 2019, Liz has supported ERC’s marketing team. She currently manages ERC’s email marketing campaigns, social media accounts, marketing automation, and websites. Liz also executes content strategies that drive engagement, leads, and customer retention.