What is a problem?
Do we really know how to define “Problem”?
I have to say that after many years of training companies in problem-solving, to the open question “What is a problem“, I rarely received a valid answer…, I propose the following definition:
“Problem = the difference between what is and what should be.”
In addition, two considerations are included in this definition:
- Problem is the result of a dysfunction:
- when something departs from a specification or design
- when we move away from an established standard, or the standard is incorrect.
- Problem is the result of a desire to improve the existing:
- an opportunity for progress
- or a new, more ambitious goal
In this case, solving the problem is to advance the known level.
Especially in the industrial world, a problem must always be measurable, therefore, we must associate it with an indicator (quality, productivity, safety, delivery, …).
Finally, I must say that behind any problem there is always an “internal or external” customer who requires a solution.
Who is responsible for solving a problem?
The task of the whole organization!
All personnel must be prepared to solve problems at their level. For this reason, from the highest level of management, all managers exemplarily practice the dynamics of problem-solving (QC Story, A3, Short Loop…).
What are the main keys to problem-solving?
- The Gemba, the concept of the terrain is vital, where things happen. The knowledge of what happens there with respect to the means of production, the impact of people in the control of the means, the processes, the working methods…
- Every manager should necessarily spend some time in all the links of the hierarchical pyramid of a workshop, starting from the bottom. In the universities, they don’t teach you all that part, which is fundamental.
How do approach problem-solving and continuous improvement?
- The approach to problem-solving must have a systematic approach based on Deming’s PCDA cycle, where the last phase of the Act, always opens the opportunity to something to continue improving, therefore, to continuous improvement.
- In the Plan phase: define and quantify the problem, define its objective, the work team, and the expected date of resolution.
- In the Do phase: Understand the current situation, analyze it to find out the root cause of the problem, and implement the improvement actions, as well as update the modified standards and staff training.
- In the Check phase: Verify the results, observe them, and the implementation of the new standards.
- In the Act phase: We will make a self-criticism of the work done during the resolution, verify the need to standardize, and open the opportunity for new improvement opportunities. The method itself forces us to think about continuous improvement.
There are different methodologies that are different in form, but very similar in substance (PDCA), QC Story, A3, Short Loop…
How to size problems and their importance
The importance of data
- There is no problem without data. The very definition of a problem requires that a problem must be measurable; if it cannot be measured, there is no problem!
- It is convenient to graph the dimension of the problem, indicating the forecast in time with the data. We will see its evolution in the Plan phase (Objective) and in the Check phase (verification of results).
- In addition, the data processing will be worked out in the field observations or in the analysis of the problem.
I’d like to add a comment: I had a boss who had a sign at the entrance of his office with the following motto: “I only believe in God, the rest bring data”, this metaphorically summarizes the importance that data should have.
Without data, you are just another person with another opinion (Edwards Deming).
Tools, techniques, and methodologies for problem-solving
What do you think are the indispensable tools and techniques for problem-solving in an industrial environment?
- A workshop is made up of production and control means, materials (raw materials or consumables), work methods and instructions and people (managers, manufacturing and maintenance workers, etc…), that is to say, the 4M’s.
- Therefore, to face a problem in a workshop, the first thing to do is to identify the problem, which, as we said before, must be measurable. Once identified, we will have to go to the Gemba (field) to observe with the 4Ms which are the origin or root cause of the problem.
Methodologies to follow
Therefore, it is essential to follow the PDCA with a robust resolution method, for example, QC Story in 9 stages:
- S1.-(P) Sizing the problem, defining a target and a resolution date.
- S2.-(P) Explain graphically the importance of the problem and its impact on the results of the area or the company.
- S3.-(P) Visualize the problem from different angles, using the 4Ms and the ES/NO ES Matrix. Work in the Gemba with the observation of the workstations, talking to the operators and technicians who know the process. Finish this phase with the verification of the point of the root cause of our problem.
- S4.-(P) Clarify the objective with a path of evolution over time and planning of tasks to be performed throughout the QC Story.
- S5.-(D) Search for the root cause(s). Preferably using the Ishikawa diagram. All causes will be hierarchized based on the data collected. Likewise, all of them should be causes linked to the organization or design (Product – Process).
- S6.-(D) Action plan: take resolution actions (evaluating the effectiveness and cost of each proposed action) to the just and necessary, with a responsible and a deadline. The impact on the outcome of each action will be independently verified.
- S7.-(C) Confirm the results in the objectives chart.
- S8.-(A) Standardize the new solutions, in new work standards, new designs, ensuring the training of people… Capitalize the actions in other similar processes. Perform an analysis of the new process capability through tools such as FMEA.
- S9.-(A) Self-criticism of the QC Story, the opening of a new problem or improvement actions in the future.
Why do many teams fail in problem-solving
What is the most common reason teams fail in problem-solving and continuous improvement?
The most common reasons are several and all are related to Gemba:
- Defining the problem and sizing it. I always say that by right-sizing the problem, we already have it half-solved.
- Go to the Gemba, talk to the people in the field, observe with the 4 M’s, and really understand what is happening.
- Analyze in the field and find the real root cause:
For example, in a painting process where the problem is “run-off” (with whatever dimension), the root cause will not be the low air pressure in the gun, but the incorrect regulation by the person, because for example he was not trained in this respect with a robust work standard.
Therefore, no real action is taken to correct the root cause and the problem will recur.
The importance of the field, the Gemba, talking to people who know what is going on, with the 4 M’s and Job Observation, to find the real root cause. We must know how to take advantage of their knowledge, they are the ones that are doing that process day in and day out.
Work with reliable data that help us to define the dimension of the problem, to observe, etc…
But I am sure that I was not left with only two things, the PDCA cycle is important in its entirety.
Digitization in problem-solving and support for managers
Nowadays with mPS, you can have a much easier life, especially for managers:
- Hoshin Kanri to identify priority problems.
- Observation tools
- Problem-solving tools
- Visual standard for visual work instructions management
- Kaizen, source of problems to be addressed…
- TPM, source of problems to be addressed…
However the tools are very powerful and available for use, but if you don’t decide to use them, they are useless.
Never say something is impossible, say I haven’t done it yet.