Introduction to Problem Solving
In the current world market, consumers and organizations have a vast amount of choices regarding the brand or manufacturer of products, parts and materials available to them. In order to not merely survive but thrive in this ever increasingly competitive market, an organization must provide the most value and the highest quality possible. Most organizations have effective quality systems in place. Unfortunately, we cannot always prevent or detect problems before they reach the customer. Whether your customer is a Tier 1 automotive manufacturer or the end user, problems sometimes occur. Even the companies held up as benchmarks for quality in their industry eventually encounter problems with their product or process. The most important factors at that time are how timely and effectively the problem is resolved and prevented from re-occurring. Problems happen so we must be skillful and systematic in resolving the problems as they arise.
What is Problem Solving
Problem Solving is the process undertaken to find solutions to complex or difficult issues by taking an analytical approach using scientific methods. Effective problem solving requires the issue to be recognized and fully understood by the problem solver(s). Then, various problem solving methods and tools can be used to drive down to the root cause of the issue and take appropriate corrective actions to not only fix the problem, but to ensure it does not re-occur. Recurring problems are expensive, drive down brand equity and can damage the supplier / customer relationship. Customers could determine that your organization is not capable of resolving problems within your products or processes. There are many problem solving tools and approaches that are all effective if used properly. The following is a sample list with a brief description of each method.
5 Why is a problem solving method that asks the question “Why” enough times until you get down to the root cause of a problem. The 5 Why exercise can be used as a stand- alone tool or applied within a larger problem solving activity. 5 Why is commonly used during the Analyze phase of the DMAIC process and the Plan phase of the PDCA process. The responses should be based on facts or data and should focus on process or systems errors. The facilitator should ask the team if the cause identified were corrected, could the failure mode or problem still occur. If the answer is yes, then move on to the second “Why” and then the third, fourth, fifth and so on until the answer is no.
Eight Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D)
Eight Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D) is a detailed problem solving method primarily used within the automotive industry but has more recently been utilized by other industries. 8D is typically a team exercise utilized mainly by quality engineers or managers and other professionals. The 8D approach employs statistical analysis of the process and stresses the importance of determining the root causes of the problem. The basic elements of the 8D method are to identify the problem, form a team, determine root causes, develop corrective actions, both interim and permanent, and ultimately, to prevent the problem from reoccurring. It is also an effective tool for use during product and process improvement initiatives.
The A3 Report has its roots in the PDCA method. The A3 Report format is an effective tool for communicating all pertinent information with greater visual impact. A3 gained its name from the size of paper used during the exercise. By literally writing and drawing it all out on one sheet, it clearly communicates what is being done at each step of the problem solving activity improving team communication. The A3 format is a valuable problem solving and critical thinking tool that can foster continuous improvement.
Corrective Action Preventive Action (CAPA)
Corrective Action Preventive Action (CAPA) is usually part of an overall Quality Management System (QMS). The Corrective / Preventive Action process is generally a documented procedure used to collect and analyze information, identify any non-conformances and take appropriate action (corrective or preventive) to resolve problems and prevent recurrence. The CAPA process closely follows the PDCA methodology of Plan, Do, Check, Act. The use of data to drive actions is prevalent in most CAPA systems. In some cases, Statistical Process Control (SPC) data is incorporated into the process. Corrective actions are directed at eliminating known causes of failure or other product or process issues. Preventive actions are derived from structured risk analysis and focused on eliminating the cause of a potential failure.
Is / Is Not
The Is / Is Not tool is adaptable in that it can be used as a stand-alone problem solving tool or by establishing boundaries during a larger problem solving activity using one of the methodologies discussed above. It may be used to define the problem and determine the scope of what will be considered and what will not be considered during the problem solving exercise. The Is / Is Not simply asks the questions about the problem and determines what the problem is and is not. For example, a manufacturer starts getting feedback from their dealers of a particular problem. By entering the answers to the questions in a basic diagram, you can identify the scope of the problem and then determine where to apply resources and focus on the real problem.
The Is / Is Not tool produces results by allowing you to focus on the facts of the problem, and specifically on the boundaries created by determining what is and is not involved. Your team can then focus their efforts and attention on the likely causes and take action.
Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)
Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) is also sometimes referred to as the Shewert circle is an excellent method for problem solving or continuous improvement. The basics of the PDCA cycle are to Plan or identify the problem. Do or perform a process study or root cause analysis to determine cause and potential improvements. Check or measure the results of the corrective action or improvement. And then Act, take action based upon the results of the study. The PDCA is not a straight line but a circle or cycle. Once the actions have been validated then use the knowledge acquired to plan additional improvements and begin the cycle again.
No matter which method you select, they all have some basic steps in common. The problem must be defined, the root causes identified, effective temporary and permanent countermeasures put in place, the results measured, monitored and validated. Through this process, you can resolve a problem and prevent recurrence. While problem solving methods are valuable tools in your quality toolbox, some of them can be applied to a product or process before a failure occurs or during a continuous improvement initiative (i.e. Kaizen). By using these tools, a potential failure may be foreseen, analyzed, and actions can be taken to prevent the failure from ever occurring. Tools such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), both Design FMEA and Process FMEA, can be utilized to reduce the likelihood of failures occurring.
Problem Solving Services
At Quality-One, we offer many services directed at helping you resolve any current problems or prevent problems from occurring. Our experienced team of highly trained professionals will provide a customized approach for developing your people and processes based on your unique problem solving needs. At Quality-One our services include:
- Consulting to provide assistance or guidance in developing a plan to deploy a new problem solving initiative
- Training to help your teams understand and drive improvement
- Support in building and implementing your selected problem solving process, which may include Facilitation, Auditing and / or Contract Services