Problem-solving skills are fundamental to keeping factories running smoothly.
Today, we’re bringing a complete guide to help you take your problem-solving routines to the next level.
First stop: what is a problem?
Before we even discuss methodologies, we need to define what’s a problem.
One definition could be the following: a problem is the gap between what is and what should be.
This definition lays the foundation for us to explore problem-solving and how it affects factory work on a daily basis.
Who’s in charge of solving the issue?
This question has a final and straightforward answer: everybody in the organisation is responsible for solving the problem.
In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing environment, everybody needs to have appropriate problem-solving skills.
This helps you stay competitive, efficient, and profitable. This also ensures that problems are dealt with quickly and that continuous improvement keeps thriving in your factory.
To achieve this, leaders and managers must lead by example and implement an effective methodology that motivates and inspires their teams.
Doing this creates a ripple effect throughout the organisation, motivating everybody to find and fix issues as soon as they arise.
How to do problem-solving like a pro
The first step to problem-solving like a pro is understanding how vital it is to take a collective approach to the process.
Once we do this, we can look at some strategies that will empower you and your team to tackle problems confidently.
Gemba: The heart of the action
When it comes to fixing issues, one concept reigns supreme: the Gemba.
Gemba is the place where things happen. It can refer to the manufacturing shopfloor, a customer service centre, or a software development area.
Embracing the Gemba is crucial to effective problem-solving, as it gives you invaluable insight into production and control processes, people, and working methods.
To do this like a pro, managers must spend time in the Gemba to understand the challenges and opportunities each role and process presents. This helps them get a comprehensive understanding of the operations, allowing them to identify areas for improvement.
The power of the PDCA Cycle: Continuous improvement made simple
A systematic approach is essential to fix issues permanently and implement continuous improvement.
A really good example of this is the PDCA cycle, developed by quality expert Dr W. Edwards Deming.
This cycle serves as a roadmap for problem-solving, helping organisations analyse issues, implement solutions, and monitor the results. The PDCA cycle consists of four phases, namely, Plan, Do, Check, and Act.
Because of how effective the PDCA cycle is, there are elements of this approach present in other problem-solving methods such as 8D and Shoort Loop.
Apart from being effective and easy to follow, the PDCA cycle offers a structured, predictable framework for problem-solving, which drives continuous improvement and boosts profitability.
Best techniques for problem-solving
We’ve already seen some fundamentals, such as using the Gemba to your advantage and implementing the PDCA cycle.
When it comes to problem-solving in an industrial environment, several great tools and techniques make this process a breeze. Which one you use will depend on what exactly you’re dealing with.
A great example is the 4Ms, which stands for material, machine, method, and manpower —the latter referring to the whole of the workforce—.
The 4Ms method focuses on preventing issues from occurring to maximise productivity and decrease downtime. It works by helping factories identify the problems affecting operations and their materials, machines, methods, and manpower.
Another great tool for problem-solving is root cause analysis (RCA), which, much like the PDCA cycle, is present in different problem-solving methods. An example is the Ishikawa diagram —known as the fishbone diagram—, which uses data to create a hierarchical classification of the causes that lead to a problem. This helps your team implement focused and permanent solutions.
Some specific problem-solving methodologies can streamline the resolution process. An example of this would be the QC Story approach, which provides a structured process that includes nine steps to solve the issue effectively. Methodologies like this provide a framework that guides problem-solvers through each process phase.
Measuring the scale of the problem
If you want to solve a problem successfully, you need to know exactly how bad it is or, rather, how big.
To solve a problem correctly, it’s key to measure it first. And to do this right, it’s always a good idea to sketch the dimensions of the problem using up-to-date data.
Having this clear picture of the magnitude of your problem helps you track its evolution and assess whether your solutions are working.
Data is a key player at this stage. It gives you all the information you need to support your decision-making efforts.
This data needs to be reliable, too, as you need to be able to define the magnitude of the problem accurately to fix it and prevent it from happening again.
Why is problem-solving not working for your team?
Problem-solving brings great potential for growth, but many teams don’t know how to implement it properly. Here are some common pitfalls to help you fast-track your process:
Undefined, unmeasured problems — when you measure a problem accurately, you’re one step closer to solving it. When you neglect this step, you’re in the dark when it comes to identifying the root cause of the issue, and you’ll struggle to fix it.
Failing to do the Gemba — if you don’t check where the issue happened and speak to everyone involved, you’re leaving key information behind, which will slow your process and affect the whole organisation.
Your solutions don’t address the root cause — don’t just treat the symptoms, find the root cause of the problem and fix it for good. If you don’t do your research and find exactly where the problem lies, you’ll be stuck with the same problem over and over again, which will result in a waste of time, effort, and money.
All successful problem-solving processes have three things in common: they all went through the Gemba, they all used reliable data, and they all applied the PDCA cycle.
mlean® and problem-solving
In today’s digital age, technology plays a pivotal role in problem-solving and supports managers in their quest for operational excellence.
But a lot of factories still use paper to complete these processes, and things end up getting messy or lost.
Our mlean® Production System (mPS) sorts that out for you and brings problem-solving closer to your factory.
Our mPS is a digital problem-solving platform integrating data collection, analysis, and collaboration into a single centralised system. This facilitates real-time monitoring, data visualisation, and seamless communication among team members, regardless of their physical locations.
Digital tools boost problem-solving efficiency, remote collaboration, and decision-making processes, and ours is the most complete one in the market.
Give us a try and see for yourself!