The biggest and most important question for a Lean Six Sigma project team (or really any project team) is a very simple one – What problem is the project looking to solve? Sounds like an elementary question to ask, especially for experienced teams who have handled hundreds of projects, but you would be surprised how many times I have worked with teams that have had difficulty answering this question.

This typically comes up when reviewing a project charter, and before I begin to look at the details of the charter I will ask the team what problem their project is looking to solve? When a team gives multiple answers, it’s a clear indicator their scope is far too large. When a team cannot give a clear and concise answer, I ask a secondary question that helps prompt the discussion – Can you measure that? If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it, and if you cannot manage it, you cannot improve it. The bottom line is if a team cannot answer this question, then they do not have a viable Lean Six Sigma project.

Being unclear on the problem your Lean Six Sigma project is solving can happen to anyone, even the most seasoned Lean Six Sigma Black Belts. You may get so caught up in working on a project and focusing on the details that one day you find the validity of the project comes into question. Remember, not every project is attempting to solve a full blown problem. It may be that you are simply looking to get traction on a problem and to see if a particular solution will work, if it is valuable to the organization or if you should move on. But without being clear on what you are trying to solve, it’s impossible to know how to move forward appropriately.

When this happens, go back and ask your team what problem is the Lean Six Sigma project looking to solve? Then ask your team if it is indeed measureable. If you can answer these two questions clearly and concisely, you know you are on track. If not, stop the project and go back to the basics, refocusing your efforts and begin with the simple question that every team should ask.