Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the problem with problem solving

Problems are an everyday occurrence in business; some more easily fixed than others. To be sure, the problems fixed the easiest are the ones that we know the most about; we know what the issues are, we actually know what happened, and we know why we didn’t notice.

The problem with problem solving is that ironically the quickest problems solved are often not the real problems at all but a symptom of the root cause. This isn’t to say that fixing all that is broken is a bad thing; it merely suggests that you will continue to suffer with the problems generated by the true root cause.

Problem solving can be broken down simply enough:

Find out what’s wrong,

fix it,

then check to make sure it’s really fixed.

Ford’s 8D process takes it a bit further breaking down these steps into recognizable actionable tasks. Where the 8D fails, is in helping us to understand that all steps are not created equal. Defining a problem is pretty complex if you’re not sure what it is. A failure on your production floor could be happening on several lines, with different machines, on an irregular basis, etc. Similarly, determining the root cause and analyzing risk for possible solutions is more like a six step process. Frankly a 19D would be a little cumbersome if not intimidating.

Let’s focus on root cause analysis here. There is one basic question one should ask when figuring out the root cause; that question is:


It’s best phrased like this: Why did it happen? And: Why didn’t we notice? We ask these two questions because with every one root cause, two things happen: 1) it happens, and 2) it escaped our attention getting to the customer. To be effective answering each scenario, it’s important to address each “why” separately.

The tricky part is in truly answering (the why) and considering most of the causes. Keeping it simple is a no brainer, but how often do you really keep it simple?

Ask your self and your team, “Why?” Then directly answer that new question.

You will get many answers to your “why” questions. Each answer represents a new trail to investigate.

Asking and answering questions takes very little time. Ignoring a line of thought or a trail you think you know all too well might make the difference in figuring out the root cause verses fixing a few things that you know are already wrong (but not really the main contributor to your problem).

Extra: As you know I’m all about training. I enjoy the camaraderie and energy of a large classroom and to see the differences in team dynamics during the application sessions. Small team training where you can take their top priority relevant issue of the day and lead them through this exercise drives home the effectiveness of root cause permanent correction action; ie: problem solving.

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