Defining a Project Problem Statement

The next step in the Six Sigma journey is to have a clearly defined problem statement that will guide the team throughout the execution of the project. Here are a few tips which give us an insight into how a project problem statement must be developed.

What is a Problem ?

As per a layman’s definition a problem is a difference between the expected state of affairs and the actual state of affairs. In organizations problems can come in many forms and can have many causes. In fact most of the times problems are hidden and what we think of as problems are only symptoms of the problem.

The Problem with “Problems”

While it may sound fairly simple that there is a business problem that needs to be solved, in reality it is not so. This is because business problems have various dimensions and people tend to interpret some of these dimensions separately. The common problems that occur because the problem was not accurately understood in the first place are as follows:

  • Hasty Decisions: Many organizations have suffered from the consequences of taking hasty decisions. The organization ends up making resource commitments which may not be required and prove a drain in the long run.

  • Assumed Common Understanding: The problem must be explicitly stated down and discussed with the team in question. The Project Champion must question the team members to ensure that they have the correct knowledge regarding the problem to avoid this.

  • Assumed Causes or Solutions: It is human tendency to jump to conclusions. However, often we jump to the wrong conclusions. It is important not to be judgemental while defining a problem. This often narrows our thinking and we are not able to think of the best solution.

Convert Your Regular Problem to a Six Sigma Problem

To prevent this problem from happening, a regular problem must be converted to a Six Sigma Problem. The Six Sigma Problem, like the regular problem is a difference between the desired and actual state of affairs. However, it answers some questions explicitly and leaves no room for ambiguity. The questions that are normally answered are as follows:

  • Who is affected by the problem ?
  • What are the causes of the problem ?
  • When does the problem occur ?
  • Where does the problem occur ?
  • What is the business impact of the problem i.e. the amount of revenue lost, the amount of time lost, employee inconvenience, customer inconvenience, etc.

This Six Sigma problem provides a concrete goal statement to the project execution team that can be worked upon. An example will make the contrast between a normal problem and a six sigma defined problem statement more clear.


Normal Problem: Employees usually turn in late to work causing loss in productivity.

Six Sigma Problem: At the New Jersey factory, 45% of the employees report to work within 15 minutes after the time that they were supposed to report to during the beginning of the shift causing a fall in daily productivity by 5%.

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