problem solving

The Ultimate Problem Solving Roadmap

Roadmap for selecting the right problem solving tool

A rational for problem solving by Sidney Porto & Jim Thompson

When the only thing you have is a hammer… everything looks like a nail. But a hammer isn’t always the tool you need to get the job done right. A problem that we see far too often is the use of the wrong tool, or the SAME tool, for each problem or opportunity to improve a product or process.

With enough experience, solving problems can be intuitive. But only through a commonly understood problem solving methodology is it possible to implement effective solutions for a problem or opportunity at hand. Although we all make small corrections every single day, effective implementation of corrective action through in-depth problem solving take correction to a different level – time, money and discipline included. So how do you know which tool to use for each unique problem or opportunity?

Step 1 – Clearly identify the problem

While PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is common in the world of management systems and problem solving, Robert Kettering said it best: “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” Instead of using the PDCA Cycle, we frequently use the acronym IDPDCA. ID = Identify. You can have the best root cause analysis and problem solving techniques in the world, but if you’re solving the wrong problem (i.e. low impact or low return), then your efforts may not be worthwhile. Use the worksheet in Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet to capture the who, what, when, where, why, how and how many of the issue observed.

Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet

Figure 1 - 5W2H Problem Definition Worksheet

Step 2 – Prioritization based on impact

Figure 2 - Impact Funnel

Figure 2 - Impact Funnel

Problems, risks and opportunities come in various forms of impact and complexity. The impact of an issue can span from a loss of life or limb through something that simply needs to be done to make the lunch room smell better.  Tools ranging from a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to a C&E Matrix (Cause & Effect) or the FMEA (Failure Modes & Effects Analysis) can assist in giving a value to an issue. The bottom line is this – you can’t do everything at the same time. This of this step as a funnel. You can put every issue in the world into the funnel, but you only have the resources to focus on a few at a time. See Figure 2 – Impact Funnel.

We recommend ranking issues from, say, 1 to 10, using 2 to 3 variables such as cost, impact to the customer and ease of implementation. In some cases, such as QMS requirements in the automotive sector (i.e. IATF 16949:2016), prescribed variables such as severity, occurrence frequency and detection risk are all multiplied together for what is called a risk priority number (RPN) to promote focus on the highest risk characteristics.

Step 3 - Selecting the correct primary tool

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity

Figure 3 – List of primary tools based on severity illustrates the relationship between the issue type, issue impact or significance, and the recommended problem solving tool. Simple tools should be used for minor problems that are easy to solve, and where the cause and/or solution may be apparent. Comprehensive tools should be used for complex issues to get to the bottom of what is causing, or may cause, the issue at hand. And comprehensive set of tools should be used for chronic issues such as the methodology found in Six Sigma. Most issues will fall into the category of “solutions unknown” or “complex” and therefore should be solved using the A3, FTA (Fault Tree Analysis), 8D (disciplines) or a variation of two or more of these primary tools.

Step 4 - Selecting the correct secondary tool

In our fourth step, we structure the problem-solving resolution into 3 distinct lanes:

  1. Problem definition
  2. Root cause(s) identification
  3. Corrective action implementation

This sounds simple because it is simple. All fundamental requirements such as containment, validation of alternatives and effectiveness checks will fit into one of these three lanes on the roadmap. See Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

Figure 4 – Roadmap for Problem Solving.

During the root cause analysis phase, ensure that any data being gathered and analyzed is accurate by conducting a measurement system analysis (MSA). Outputs and effective solutions are only as good as the integrity of the inputs and reasonable bias or measurement error (ideally < 10%).

Like Step 3, the effectiveness of your problem-solving results is highly dependable of the set of secondary problem solving tools you have selected. Figure 4 also suggests which secondary tool(s) to use as well as the sequence of usage for optimal results.

Conclusion

Do you feel this roadmap can guide you on most of the formal problem common solving resolution? Want to learn any specific tool described here. Concentric Global counts on a team of subject matter experts in the USA and South America that can help you on this arena.

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Writing a Nonconformance (NCR)

NCR can find broken processes and really help with profit improvement "A problem well stated is a problem half solved." - Charles F. Kettering, American Inventor & Social Philosopher

The first step in solving a problem is to ensure you fully understand what the problem actually is. I regularly see horrible examples of this in practice inside some of the companies I work with. One classic example was in Atlanta, GA a few years ago. Here is the scenario...

Operations Manager: "What the h@!! is going on? Logistics has dropped the ball again! Our #1 line is down because they can't get their heads out of their a$$e$ and keep up with ordering the resin we need. This is our biggest customer!"

The scenario, at least in the mind of the Operations Manager, was that the Jack-Wagons working over in the Logistics Department simply couldn't count. I didn't buy it. In this case, as in most cases where suppositions seem a bit unlikely, I decided to do something I typically do during an audit - walk the audit trail by following the process upstream. This seems like such an obvious move... 1. There's a problem. 2. Walk the trail to find out the source. 3. Ask questions and "show me, show me, show me". HOWEVER, in many organizations, the minute an employee crosses the line into another department he/she is outside of their home turf. A defensive culture will likely breed a departmental approach (staying in your own neighborhood) versus a process approach. If you are not familiar with the process approach, you can learn more about this methodology here from a March 2011 post.

After walking the trail and crossing the territorial boundaries of Production into Scheduling and on to Logistics, I was able to trace back the material in the ERP system with the status "On Hand" and location "Op 120" -  which was the Molding Operations where I had started my hunt. After circling back around to the Operations Manager and hearing another string of Logistics bashing, I started to do some real snooping in the surrounding areas.

Standing at what I'd like to call the base camp of "Mount Unknown Product", I rolled up my sleeves like a eager bidder on Storage Wars and sifted through stacks of components, raw materials and residual miscellaneous. No luck there, although I noted the lack of control and visited that area later in the audit. After asking several questions of several Molding Operators, one of the ladies jumped in with "Oh yeah, that's probably that skid over there in the corner." Sure enough, the skid we were looking for was off in the corner with a simple 2"x2" yellow sticky label on it marked "BAD PRODUCT".

After pointing out to the Operations Manager that the source of the problem was likely one of his team members as opposed to those fools in Logistics, I asked him to consider a better solution. I then pointed out how I would be writing a Nonconformance Report for this finding, and how my nonconformance statement would clearly define the problem at hand. I jokingly stated, "If you want, I can write this NCR in a similar way as that sticky note? I can simply write 'Bad Process' and let you try to remember what I actually meant." He didn't think it was funny.

There were several missing links to the materials and inventory control process I observed during this audit; none that included someone coming to work deliberately trying to screw things up. Links that were obviously broken were the identification of product, controlling suspect or known nonconforming product, use of approved documentation and recording the instance of a nonconformity. An important transactional control was also missing, which was the signal used to notify Logistics that the parts were now unavailable. That signal should have been an ERP move from "Op 120" to "Op 120 Hold". That move to Op 120 Hold would have signaled the Logistics group to order another batch of components in order to keep the customer's order moving forward.

At the end of the day, the use of a simple 1-page Nonconformance Report (NCR) that forces the Originator to follow a simple process checklist (i.e. Yes/No - Did you move product out of IN PROCESS into a PRODUCT HOLD Operations?) may have prevented a late shipment. By the way, the company's poorest performing KPI (key process indicator) was "% On Time Delivery". This KPI was also tied to their variable compensation profit sharing process.

Nonconformance Report (NCR)

Here is an example of a simple NCR Form that may be useful in improving YOUR bonus payout. Click on the image to launch the product and view the PDF or download the native version. Who would have thought a simple form could make your customer and your wallet happier?

Cheers,

Jim Blog Signature

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October 22-25 AS9100C Lead Internal Auditor Training (32hrs) Charleston, SC

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Problem Solving Workshop

Concentric offers a state-of-the-art Problem Solving Workshop that can be used to both train employees on problem solving tools/methods while also solving the organizations most troublesome problems.  This is an outline for the 40-hour workshop:

 

Outline for Team Problem Solving Workshop

1.    The PDCA Cycle 
2.    Form a Team 
    a.  Who should be on the team?
    b.    How the team should be organized
    c.    The Team Leader
    d.    Responsibilities of team members
    e.    Consequences if this step is skipped
3.    Define the Problem 
    a.    Using the 5W2H method
    b.    Tools to use
    c.    Determining if the problem is related to measurement (MSA) or process 
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
4.    Containment Action 
    a.    Protecting the customer
    b.    Validating the action
    c.    Verify that the containment action works
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
5.    Find the Root Cause: Tools and Techniques 
    a.    Tools to use (Ishikawa “Fishbone” Diagram, Brainstorm & Rank)
    b.    The 5 Why’s - Ask why five times
    c.    Is/Is Not Tool
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
6.    Corrective Action 
    a.    Action, responsibility, due date
    b.    Verify that the corrective action effectively addresses the cause(s)
    c.    Improve the quality system by looking at all aspects of the quality system 
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
7.    Evaluate effectiveness & Corrective Action Impact 
    a.    Monitor/Evaluate long-term effectiveness
    b.    1st Piece verification + Last-off comparison
    c.    Process audits
    d.    Application of actions taken to similar products or processes
    e.    Consequences if this step is skipped
8.    Preventive Action 
    a.    What is preventive action (vs. corrective action)?
    b.    Preventive action tools & techniques
    c.    Use of C&E Matrix to prioritize by highest risk
    d.    Deep dive into FMEA
9.    Management Review 
    a.    How to structure a follow up meeting
    b.    Reporting the status of Corrective & Preventive Action
    c.    What should management review?
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
10. Improving the Problem Solving Process
    a.    Using PDCA to improve the Team-based problem solving process
    b.    TGR/TGW Analysis
    c.    Evaluating the tools & techniques used
    d.    Reporting results to top management
    e.    Evaluating management commitment
    f.     Updates to procedures
    g.    Identification of new training & competency needs
    h.    Other resources needed for continual improvement

Problem Solving Workshop

Concentric offers a state-of-the-art Problem Solving Workshop that can be used to both train employees on problem solving tools/methods while also solving the organizations most troublesome problems.  This is an outline for the 40-hour workshop:

 

Outline for Team Problem Solving Workshop

1.    The PDCA Cycle 
2.    Form a Team 
    a.  Who should be on the team?
    b.    How the team should be organized
    c.    The Team Leader
    d.    Responsibilities of team members
    e.    Consequences if this step is skipped
3.    Define the Problem 
    a.    Using the 5W2H method
    b.    Tools to use
    c.    Determining if the problem is related to measurement (MSA) or process 
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
4.    Containment Action 
    a.    Protecting the customer
    b.    Validating the action
    c.    Verify that the containment action works
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
5.    Find the Root Cause: Tools and Techniques 
    a.    Tools to use (Ishikawa “Fishbone” Diagram, Brainstorm & Rank)
    b.    The 5 Why’s - Ask why five times
    c.    Is/Is Not Tool
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
6.    Corrective Action 
    a.    Action, responsibility, due date
    b.    Verify that the corrective action effectively addresses the cause(s)
    c.    Improve the quality system by looking at all aspects of the quality system 
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
7.    Evaluate effectiveness & Corrective Action Impact 
    a.    Monitor/Evaluate long-term effectiveness
    b.    1st Piece verification + Last-off comparison
    c.    Process audits
    d.    Application of actions taken to similar products or processes
    e.    Consequences if this step is skipped
8.    Preventive Action 
    a.    What is preventive action (vs. corrective action)?
    b.    Preventive action tools & techniques
    c.    Use of C&E Matrix to prioritize by highest risk
    d.    Deep dive into FMEA
9.    Management Review 
    a.    How to structure a follow up meeting
    b.    Reporting the status of Corrective & Preventive Action
    c.    What should management review?
    d.    Consequences if this step is skipped
10. Improving the Problem Solving Process
    a.    Using PDCA to improve the Team-based problem solving process
    b.    TGR/TGW Analysis
    c.    Evaluating the tools & techniques used
    d.    Reporting results to top management
    e.    Evaluating management commitment
    f.     Updates to procedures
    g.    Identification of new training & competency needs
    h.    Other resources needed for continual improvement