The Define phase is the first and one of the most critical stages in the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology of Six Sigma. This phase lays the all-important foundation for the rest of the project by framing the problem accurately, setting clear goals and expectations, and defining the scope.

Using the right tools in the Define phase sets up the project for success and ensures the efforts remain focused on the critical priorities from start to finish. . This is why Six Sigma experts rely on proven tools and techniques specifically designed for the Define phase.

These tools help quantify the problem, identify critical needs, map out processes, analyze risks, collect the right data, and prepare the team for tackling issues objectively. Getting the Define phase right is key to extracting maximum value from the subsequent stages of Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

Here are some of the key tools used by Six Sigma experts during the Define phase:

Project Charter

The project charter is essentially the blueprint for the Six Sigma initiative. It includes:

  • Background information on the problem and its impact on the business
  • The problem statement defined in clear, actionable terms
  • The project scope and key milestones
  • The goals and objectives to be achieved
  • The roles and responsibilities of team members and stakeholders
  • Key stakeholders, project sponsors, and champions
  • Having a well-defined charter prevents scope creep and keeps the project focused only on the goals that deliver maximum value.

Voice of the Customer (VOC)

Capturing the voice of the customer (VOC) is vital for defining the problem from the customer's perspective. VOC techniques like interviews, surveys, and focus groups help uncover unmet needs and critical-to-quality (CTQ) requirements.

Analyzing VOC data identifies the key gaps between customer expectations and the actual experience delivered. This guides the Six Sigma team towards solutions that close these priority gaps first.

Critical-to-Quality (CTQ) Tree

The CTQ tree maps out the key qualities and specifications most critical from the customer's point of view. The tree links these critical needs to measurable requirements that must be met to achieve customer satisfaction.

This CTQ framework shapes the goals and objectives stated in the project charter and the metrics defined in the Measure phase.

SIPOC Diagram

The SIPOC diagram clearly defines the process scope by identifying:

The Suppliers who provide inputs to the process

  • The Inputs or raw materials entering the process
  • The Process itself - the major steps and flows
  • The Outputs or products/services delivered by the process
  • The primary Customers who receive these outputs
  • Mapping the process visually makes it easier to identify gaps, bottlenecks, redundancies, and improvement areas.

Process Mapping

Detailed process maps take the SIPOC one step further by documenting the actual workflow, decision points, loops, delays, outputs generated at each step, and so on. Process mapping sheds light on the current state of the process so the root causes of inefficiencies can be found.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder analysis assesses all individuals or groups impacted by the project. Key questions it answers:

  • Who are the main stakeholders?
  • What are their interests and concerns regarding this project?
  • What impact will the project deliverables have on them?
  • What influence can they exert on the project - are they supporters or resistors?
  • This equips the team to get stakeholders aligned around the need for improvement.

Project Management Tools

Project charters, process maps, and stakeholder analyses provide the foundation. Project management tools like Gantt charts, schedules, risk analysis, and resource planning enable smooth execution.

Using project management best practices prevents surprises, keeps everyone informed, and helps maintain steady progress.

Business Case

The business case justifies the Six Sigma project by demonstrating a strong return on investment. It presents:

  • Current costs the problem is incurring
  • Proposed solutions and their implementation costs
  • Financial benefits expected from addressing the defects or issues
  • Non-financial benefits like improved customer and employee satisfaction
  • The business case convinces management to invest time, money, and resources into the project.

Risk Analysis

A risk analysis evaluates internal and external factors that could derail the project or hinder the achievement of goals. It assesses the likelihood and potential impact of these risk events. Mitigation plans can then be developed to minimize the identified risks proactively.

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

FMEA reveals vulnerabilities in a process that impacts quality. It analyzes:

  • All the ways a process can fail (Failure Modes)
  • The effects or consequences these failures can have
  • The probability or frequency at which they occur
  • Fixing these failure points enhances the capability and stability of the process.

Data Collection Plan

This defines the metrics aligned with the CTQs, the data points to be tracked, data sources, collection methods, frequency, and the owner responsible.

A sound data collection plan produces the accurate, timely, and complete data required for statistical analysis.

Team Identification

Identifying team members, specialists, sponsors, and champions and their roles/responsibilities gets the right people involved. Their experience and skills should match the needs of the project.

Their commitment and buy-in is essential for converting plans into positive outcomes. The Define phase sets up a structured, objective approach to tackling problems. Utilizing these tools starts Six Sigma projects with clarity of purpose, alignment among stakeholders, and a focus on actions that will lead to real results.

Six Sigma levels:

Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification

  • Foundational knowledge of Six Sigma tools and concepts.
  • Participate in 1-2 week training covering topics like project management, process mapping, data collection, basic statistics.
  • May work on small, narrowly focused improvement projects.
  • Take a written exam to demonstrate understanding of concepts.

Six Sigma Green Belt Certification

  • Administrator and team leader of Six Sigma projects.
  • 4-5 weeks of in-depth online training.
  • Learn advanced statistical analysis like hypothesis testing, DOE, regression, RTY analysis.
  • Lead moderate complexity improvement projects. Identify defects, root causes, implement solutions.
  • May coach Yellow Belts.
  • Pass written exam and demonstrate projects/problem solving abilities.

Six Sigma Black Belt Certification

  • Full-time Six Sigma expert and project leader.
  • Complete rigorous training including statistics, Design for Six Sigma, process excellence.
  • Lead complex, high-impact improvement projects from start to finish. Coach and mentor Green Belts.
  • Pass written exam and demonstrate mastery through project completion and presentation.

Six Sigma Master Black Belt Certification

  • Subject matter expert and coach for Six Sigma implementation. 
  • Have at least 5 years experience as Black Belt on complex projects.
  • Act as organization advisor, provide training, mentor Black Belts.
  • Help define and implement Six Sigma strategy across the organization.
  • Continued work on innovative and challenging improvement initiatives.

Benefits of Earning Your Six Sigma Certification with IMC Institute:

 At IMC Institute, we understand the crucial role the DEFINE phase plays in a successful Six Sigma project. We offer a comprehensive Six Sigma certification program, equipping you with the knowledge, skills, and tools to excel in this critical stage. Here's what sets IMC Institute apart:

Industry-Experienced Instructors:

Our instructors are seasoned professionals with extensive experience in Six Sigma implementation and application. They possess a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with the DEFINE phase, offering invaluable insights and practical guidance.

Comprehensive Curriculum:

Our Six Sigma certification program delves into the tools and techniques mentioned in the blog post, providing you with a thorough understanding of each one. We go beyond just theoretical knowledge, incorporating real-world case studies and hands-on exercises to solidify your learning.

Flexible Learning Options:

We offer multiple learning options to cater to your individual needs and preferences. Choose from instructor-led online courses, allowing you to participate from the comfort of your own space, or self-paced learning for a more flexible schedule.

Exam Preparation Support:

We provide comprehensive exam preparation support, equipping you with the confidence and skills needed to succeed in your Six Sigma certification exam. This includes practice tests, study guides, and access to expert support.

Continuous Learning Opportunities:

We believe in lifelong learning. As an IMC Institute graduate, you'll gain access to our exclusive alumni network and ongoing professional development resources, allowing you to stay updated on the latest advancements in the field. Internationally Recognized Certification:

Our Six Sigma certifications are accredited by internationally recognized bodies, ensuring their validity and value across the globe. This can significantly enhance your career prospects and open doors to exciting new opportunities.


The Define phase arms Six Sigma teams with profound insight into the problem before jumping into solutions. This prevents wasting effort on the wrong issues or solving the right problem in a sub-optimal way. Tools like project charters, CTQ trees, and process maps create an information baseline. Business cases, data collection plans, and risk analysis facilitate structured project execution. Stakeholder analysis, team charters, and project management best practices enable smooth coordination between team members. While the Define phase requires significant upfront effort, it is time well spent. The clarity and alignment established during Definition pays off in the form of faster solutions and vastly improved results down the road. Eliminating assumptions and relying on facts is intrinsic to the Six Sigma way of doing things. When the Define phase is done right, projects stay aligned to key goals, progress smoothly, and deliver the projected value efficiently.