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DMAIC 1 - Define: What Does Your Client Want?

Last week, we introduced you to DMAIC, a five-step approach to process improvement.

We like to think about DMAIC this way:

Define:    what does the client want or need?
Measure: how do we work now to get that result?
Analyze:  why do we do it that way?
Improve: how can we do it better?
Control:   is our new process delivering what the client wants and are we following it?

It’s an approach that starts and ends with what the client wants. Why? Because to be truly efficient and effective, you must deliver value. And that value is defined by the client.

The notion of client can get confusing. It's not always the external, fee-paying client. In Lean, your "client" is the next person in the process—the person you pass your work along to. If you’re a conflicts clerk, the requesting partner is your client. If you’re an in-house attorney, your client could be someone in one of your business units. If you’re an associate or partner in private practice, your client could be your external client, or it could be another lawyer in your firm or even opposing counsel. Those clients decide what's value and what's waste.

We’ve written about value and waste before, and you can learn more about it in our Guide, but by way of reminder, your work adds value only when:

  1. it brings the matter closer to the final product desired by the client,
  2. your client wants it and is willing to pay for it, and
  3. it’s done right the very first time.

Everything else is waste. When you're improving a legal or business process, you want to add more value and eliminate the waste.

In the Define phase of DMAIC, you are setting out the goals and boundaries of your project. To do that, you must accomplish three main things.

Understand your client’s needs and requirements. That is, you have to answer the question: what does the client want? Talk to your client and listen carefully to the answers.

Create your project charter. The charter sets the scope of your improvement project. In it, you establish the boundaries of your enquiry, state the business case for your project, identify some key metrics for the process as it currently exists, and designate the members of the project team. Your charter will guide you and your team for the duration of the project. We’ll be doing a separate post on project charters in the fall, so stay tuned.

Create a really high-level picture of the process you want to look at. To do this, we use a process grid, often called SIPOC. SIPOC stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Clients, all in the context of the identified process. It is a tool that provides a high-level view of a process, capturing the most critical information and helping draw process boundaries clearly...It’s the REALLY big picture.

Because Lean is client-focused, we recommend you start filling in the process grid from the client end and working backwards.  

Who are the clients of your process? Remember to include anyone who receives an output of your process.

The outputs are the specific documents or services those identified clients need. A completed conflict check. A non-disclosure agreement. A will. An invoice.

Inputs are all the things you need to make the process work. Information from your client or opposing counsel. A completed form. A due diligence report. The court’s decision on your motion.

Finally, the suppliers are those who provide you the inputs. They could be clients, opposing counsel, the courts, other professionals like bankers or accountants, even the land titles office if you’re doing a real estate transaction.

The result will be a snapshot of your process. Here's one we prepared for an Equal Employment Opportunities matter.

To see how we created this process grid in a litigation matter, take a look at a recent webinar we did on mapping (you’ll need to give your name and email to access it, but that’s all).
By now you should have a clear, albeit high-level, picture of your process.

You know its start and end points, you know your own objectives for improving it, and most importantly, you know what your client wants or needs from it.

Now, you’re ready to move to the Measure phase. Join us for the next post in this series. To ensure you don't miss a post, please subscribe to our blog. In the meantime, please join the conversation by adding your comments or questions below, contacting us directly, or following us on Twitter and Facebook.

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