The measure phase of a Lean Six Sigma Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) roadmap is to develop a reliable and valid measurement system of the business process identified in the define phase.
In my last blog, aspects of creating a project execution team were described.  This blog will describe the initiation of the next step in the project DMAIC roadmap; i.e., plan project and in-process metrics.  Described are guidelines for effectively initiating a project as part of the define phase with focus on capturing the project’s voice of the customer (VOC).  A future blog will address project management aspects of this roadmap phase.
When examining a project from a supplier-input-process-output-customer (SIPOC) point of view, suppliers of a customer focus on what they do in a process; i.e., lead time, cost, and defects. Customers focus on their needs; i.e., delivery, price, and quality.  
A step-by-step process to obtain project voice of the customer input is:
  1. Define your customer.
  2. Obtain customer’s wants, needs, and desires.
  3. Assure that project is meeting customer needs. 
To determine the customers who should be considered and consulted during the project when improving a process, consider the following illustration.  A Division Controller’s 30,000-foot-level performance metric is days sales outstanding (DSO). Consider also that the company’s Enterprise Improvement Plan targeted the objective of reducing working capital, which led to a DSO reduction project. 
Accounting assembled a project team which described customers of the project to be:
  • Accounting, since their procedures would be changed
  • Division controller, since he/she needs the improvement in their 30,000-foot-level scorecard/dashboard metric
  • Functions of company that would be impacted by procedural changes
Process output variables provide a voice of the process quantification.  Process output specifications are a quantification of the voice of the customer needs.  The overlay of specifications on process output distributions quantifies customer do/need gap.  Customer satisfaction is achieved by minimizing the do/need gap. A voice of the customer system can identify and close this gap at both the enterprise and project level. 
Voice of the customer data for a Lean Six Sigma project’s decision making can originate from many sources; e.g.:
  • Audits
  • Management systems
  • Surveys and focus groups
  • Data warehouse
  • Complaints
Quality function deployment (QFD) or the "house of quality," a term coined in QFD because of the shape of its matrix, is a tool that can aid in meeting the needs of the customer and in translating customer requirements into basic requirements that have direction.   An overall product QFD implementation strategy involves first listing the customer expectations (voice of the customer). These "whats" are then tabulated along with the list of design requirements ("hows") related to meeting these customer expectations. 
Most Lean Six Sigma project work does not require the rigors of QFD creation; however, the concepts are still applicable at the project level; i.e., we need to start with the "whats" of the customer. Whether we are at the enterprise level or project level, we still have customers who have:
  • Needs: basic expectations that they will purchase.
  • Wants: performance features that they might be willing to purchase.
  • Desires: features that they want to have but may or may not be willing to purchase.  Features include function or deliverables that they would not think would be included or do not know exist.
To reiterate, the end product user is not the only customer. For example, a supplier that produces a component part/transaction of a larger assembly/service has a customer relationship with the company responsible for the larger assembly/service. A process to determine the needs of customers can also be useful to define such business procedural tasks as office physical layout, accounting procedures, product testing procedures, and internal organizational structure. 
For a project voice of the customer assessment, consider whether the project scope description is specific enough to indicate what questions should be asked and whether it includes the customer.  Consider what is known, the sources for this knowledge, and its validity.  Dated historical information, one-source information, and purely technical knowledge can be misleading.