How to Write an Effective Problem Statement in Six Sigma

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The Problem Statement in Six Sigma is deceptively simple. Yet, we know it is so difficult to write. Why? And how can we effectively write one that is convincing, rallies people around the cause, aligned and focues, and maintains momentum for the team after the inertia has worn off? So, how to write an effective problem statement?


Before I write about the elements of an effective Problem Statement, let me first address its common enemy: Clutter.

William Zinsser once wrote the following about writing well and the role of clutter:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Who can understand the viscous language of everyday American commerce and enterprise: the business letter, the interoffice memo, the corporation report, the notice from the bank explaining its latest “simplified” statement? What member of an insurance or medical plan can decipher the brochure that tells him what his costs and benefits are? What father or mother can put together a child’s toy—on Christmas Eve or any other eve—from the instructions on the box? Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t dream of saying that it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.

Perhaps a sentence is so excessively cluttered that the reader, hacking his way through the verbiage, simply doesn’t know what it means. Perhaps a sentence has been so shoddily constructed that the reader could read it in any of several ways. Perhaps the writer has switched pronouns in mid-sentence, or has switched tenses, so the reader loses track of who is talking or when the action took place. Perhaps Sentence B is not a logical sequel to Sentence A—the writer, in whose head the connection is clear, has not bothered to provide the missing link. Perhaps the writer has used an important word incorrectly by not taking the trouble to look it up.

Then, Zinsser offers a solution:

How can the rest of us achieve such enviable freedom from clutter? The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing.

Indeed, clear thinking becomes clear writing. So, get clear about your thinking.

The Premium HD Video below explains the elements of an effective problem statement and shows several examples of problem statements used in real Six Sigma DMAIC presentations and projects.

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