A Six Sigma problem statement recognizes that there is a gap between the reality of a situation versus what should be the case and initiates the process of correcting the anomaly.
It focuses on one of four main areas: an issue or area that gives cause for concern, a situation that needs to be improved, a snag that needs to be eliminated, or a worrying question – theoretical or actual – that indicates a need for balanced scrutiny.
The problem statement is a key element of the “Define” stage of the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process. Quite simply, it defines the issue that needs to be addressed.
What should a problem statement include?
A Six Sigma problem statement should be concise, specific, and fact-based. General and/or long-winded statements won’t focus on the key issue, and anything not backed up by verifiable data is opinion, prone to bias, and able to misdirect an investigation.
Problem statements should focus on a single issue. Start with the precise location where the problem is happening and the specific process involved. Supporting facts may include how often, how many, how long, plus recorded data that helps illustrate the issue. In addition, include information that shows the financial impact the issue is having on the organization.
Acknowledging the challenges
One of the hardest things to do is to focus solely on the issue and not be distracted by side issues. It can be tempting to assign blame, for example, but that suggests you are no longer open-minded when it comes to seeking out the root cause.
You might feel that, having pulled together all the information, you have a sufficiently clear understanding of the problem to know what needs to be done to fix it. However, you must resist the temptation to suggest a solution at this stage, as an investigation is likely to uncover additional information.
An effective problem statement defines the issue and conveys a sense of urgency. It sets out only the facts; the ensuing investigation identifies the root cause, which will lead to an appropriate solution.
The Six Sigma Project Charter
A problem statement is the first of the six elements comprising a broader Six Sigma Project Charter. The six are:
The problem statement, which defines an issue and how it is affecting the organization.
The goal statement, which should be in line with the problem you seek to solve, and which should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
The business case, which sets out why a project is important to an organization and deserves its support.
The scope statement, which defines the limits of the project and shows both what should be included and what should be excluded.
The project milestones, outlining the key activities that need to be completed and the projected dates of completion.
A list of the team members that will be working on the project, which will depend on the problem that needs solving and project scope.
Setting the project statement in this context gives the bigger overall picture and aids understanding. It helps avoid some of the common pitfalls described above.
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