Review of Problem Solving, Part 4
In Part 4 of our series, we discussed steps 5-7 of the “Logical Pathway to Problem Solving.”
- Identify the problem.
- Describe and define the problem.
- List the symptoms.
- List the known changes.
- Analyze the problem.
- Hypothesize possible causes.
- Test possible causes.
- Take action(s) on the cause(s).
- Test and implement the solution.
- Implement appropriate controls.
- Celebrate, recognize success, and document.
In Part 5, we will complete our discussion of the logical pathway by examining the final four steps. Again, much of what I’m presenting in this series of posts is taken directly from my first book written in 2001,  Process Problem Solving—A Guide for Maintenance and Operation’s Teams.
Take action(s) on the cause(s)
Once you have hypothesized causes, distilled them into a short list of probable causes, and tested those causes using rigorous criteria, you should have a short and manageable list. At this point, the next step is to decide on an appropriate action, or actions. Your choices are as follows:
- Take no action and decide to live with the problem.
- Take a short-term action that will effectively buy you some time.
- Take a long-term corrective action that will eliminate the problem.
My manufacturing clients usually opt for a combination of choices 2 and 3. Your first priority should be to take an action that will completely stop the negative effects of the problem. Once you have done this, you can begin to implement preventative actions by considering the controls that can be put in place to avert a recurrence of the problem. An example would be adding a check as part of the preventive maintenance on the equipment.
Test and implement the solution
I frequently see problem-solving teams engage in a complete analysis, develop solutions, implement them, and then assume they have fixed the problem. That assumption often has adverse consequences (as many assumptions do). I advise clients never to implement a solution without ensuring the solution does not have a negative impact on the process in question! Always perform a first-piece inspection (possibly a more extensive inspection) to ensure that the end-product meets all performance requirements.
I am reminded of a team at a large sheet molding compound (SMC) supplier that was absolutely certain that its root cause analysis led it to the problem-solving Promised Land. The team had done an excellent job of determining why a bonding machine always seemed to bond components out of position. They were so confident that they had implemented the correct solution, they left the premises to celebrate. After all, this had been the plant’s single biggest problem and the team was the first to find a solution.
As you might guess, something went haywire back at the plant during their celebration. Ker-plunk. The equipment produced 35 scrap parts! The “improvement” actually altered the position of another component, which caused this unintended consequence—all because the team neglected to test production after making the change. The lesson to take away from this brief case study is that today’s solutions could very well be tomorrow’s problems. Every step in the logical pathway must be followed, especially step #9. Always test your solution before assuming success!
Implement appropriate controls
Once the root cause has been identified and a solution is tested, it is imperative that you implement controls to prevent the problem from recurring. These controls might include an update to the preventive maintenance (PM) checklist or a control chart of the measurable factors associated with the problem. This step is not satisfied until you have implemented preventive measures and/or controls.
Celebrate, recognize success, and document
When a team I am working with succeeds in solving a difficult problem, I always recommend that the company recognize the team and celebrate their accomplishment. Why would a seemingly trivial recommendation become a step in the logical pathway to problem solving? When people are recognized positively for what they have done, they are incentivized to solve more problems. Over the years, as companies have recognized the importance of this step, I have even seen monetary rewards given in recognition of a significant problem-solving accomplishment.
The final part of this step is to document what the team has accomplished. By applying the eleven steps of the logical pathway in succession, a formal report can be written and saved as a resource for future teams.
A quick recap
Problem solving teams start by identifying and fully defining the problem, and then listing the symptoms and changes they observe. Once these preliminary actions are successfully completed, then a methodical search for causes and solutions can be undertaken. By following these steps, a formal report can be completed for future teams to follow.
Coming in the next post
In the next series of posts, I will explore many of the things that should not be overlooked when trying to solve problems, but are often disregarded. This discussion will include the importance of deductive reason, good judgement, and common sense. It will also include sections on different types of problems and problem solving traps.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about any of my posts, please leave a message and I will respond.
Until next time.
 Process Problem Solving – A Guide for Maintenance and Operation’s Teams, 2001, Productivity Press
 Kepner and Tregoe, The New Rational Manager (Kepner-Tregoe, Incorporated, 1981)
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