In the Six Sigma DMAIC approach, how to define a process is one of the critical aspects, as this is the basis for identifying sub-processes and, eventually, the improvement project or problem-solving projects.

Defining the process assumes that you have already created the project charter and set up the project scope and now identify some ways to visualize a process.

The level of detail required to define the process depends on both improvements opportunities and complexities of the problem. Based on complexity, processes can be viewed as both micro or sub-processes and constituents of more extensive macro processes.

What is a Process

The process is an organized group of related activities that work together to transform one or more kinds of input into outputs that are of value to the customers. In other words, a process is an activity or group of activities that takes the inputs, adds value, and provides outputs to the internal or external customers.

The process is a set of activities that interact with one another. Often, the output of one process is the input for another process. The activities which are in relation to a process of importance should be documented and controlled.

Six Sigma can be used to address problems within the manufacturing process or within any business process.

Why to define a process

  • You have a project started, or you want to start a project
  • To understand project scope clearly
  • Finding the pain areas in the process
  • You’re handling VOC or Kano or addressing some defect or improving a dashboard, KPI, or other measures.
  • To understand the process from the perspective of customer.

How to define a process

  • Get the general overall picture of the process and observe the process in action.
    • Understand the Voice of the customer and think about y=f(x). Where x is the input, f is the function and y is the output of the process
    • Determine CTQs and list all the steps
    • Understand the process interdependencies
    • perhaps the basic root cause analysis with Ishikawa fishbone or similar
  • Interview associates and other stakeholders involved in the process
  • Start with outcomes like deliverables and trace backward, making a SIPOC
    • Be sure to clearly state where you are beginning and ending. It’s easy to have scope creep.
  • Use Process definition tools.
    • SIPOC, Process map, Value Stream Map
  • Review operating procedures or manuals
  • Finally, all the team members must have an overall understanding of the process.

Sanity check, you mapped the right process! It’s easy to go overboard.

Process definition tools


SIPOC is a high-level process mapping tool to help visualize a process and its influences. In other words, it is a useful tool that depicts how a process serves the customer and summarizes the inputs and outputs of a process in a visual format. 

The acronym for SIPOC stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, and customer.

Elements of SIPOC

  • Supplier to the process
  • Inputs (X’s) for the process
  • Process steps
  • Process outputs- what the process produces
  • Customers-  Who receives the product or services
How to Define a Process

Process Mapping

Process mapping is the graphical representation with illustrative descriptions of how things get done. It helps the participants to visualize the details of the process closely and guides decision-making. One can identify the major areas of strengths and weaknesses in the existing process.

The major components of a process map include the inputs, outputs, and steps in the process. A good process map should illustrate the flow of the work and the interaction with the organization. It should make use of common language (symbols) that are easily understood by everyone.

How to Define a Process

An ideal process map should contain proper detail with respect to multiple paths, decisions, and also rework loops.

How to Define a Process

Types of process maps

There are two major types of process maps: Process flowchart and Deployment flowchart.

Process Flowchart:

A process flowchart is a simple process map that provides a visual representation of the sequence of activities along with their points of decisions. These flowcharts provide the basic details of the process, which can later be augmented by adding the roles of different staff.

Deployment Flowchart:

These process maps provide the interactions between different departments and the roles performed by different people in the organization. Also termed as ‘swim- lane’ charts, these process maps have vertical lines showing the movement of the process from person to person.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping provides a visual representation of the flow of materials and information throughout the organization. It visually shows the important parameters like cycle time, lead time, inventory or waiting time, % complete and accurate, number of operators. Three important steps of VSM:

  • Create as-is current state process how an organization delivers products and services to the customers
  • Identify wastes in the process and draw the proposed improved state map using lean principles
  • Finally, develop and implement action plans to achieve the proposed improved future state
How to Define a Process

In fact, depending on the business requirement, process mapping or value stream mapping can be used in the organization.  Use VSM to determine how much time the product spends on each step and waste in the process. While process mapping is to visualize a series of steps and determine the decision-making within the process.

When to use process definition tools


Defining a process provides an ideal opportunity to identify inefficiencies and sources of error.

  • Helps in identifying the duplicate or identical activities performed at different steps of the process
  • Identify unnecessary tasks such as unnecessary approvals, handoffs etc
  • Helps in identify an inefficient sequence of steps which leads to delays and reworks.
  • Helps in identify unclear responsibilities, which leads to delay in decision making

How to define process video


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