Sum-up #4: Problem-Solving and Investigation techniques

In today’s dynamic and ever-evolving landscape, effective investigation and problem-solving skills are essential for organizations striving to maintain excellence and drive innovation. This guide explores various tools and methodologies that equip teams with the ability to dissect complex issues, uncover root causes, and implement lasting solutions.

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    The 8D Methodology

    The 8D methodology is a structured problem-solving approach used to identify, analyze, and resolve complex issues. It provides a systematic way to address problems while preventing their recurrence.

    Benefits of Using the 8D Methodology

    • Structured Approach: Ensures a step-by-step investigation process.
    • Team Collaboration: Engages cross-functional teams for a holistic perspective.
    • Preventive Measures: Focuses on root cause analysis to prevent future issues.
    • Documentation: Creates a clear record of the problem-solving process.
    • Continuous Improvement: Encourages learning and process enhancements.

    The Process

    D1 – Establish the Team:
    In the first step of the 8D methodology, it’s crucial to assemble a cross-functional team with diverse expertise. This team will collaborate throughout the problem-solving process. The benefits of forming such a team include a variety of perspectives, knowledge, and skills to tackle the issue comprehensively.
    D2 – Describe the Problem:
    D2 involves providing a clear and concise problem statement. This statement should include specifics such as the problem’s scope, location, frequency, and its impact on stakeholders. The benefit of a well-defined problem statement is that it aligns the team’s understanding and focus, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
    D3 – Containment Action:
    To prevent the problem from worsening and affecting more areas, D3 focuses on implementing containment actions. These temporary measures are designed to limit the immediate impact and can include isolating affected products or processes. The benefit here is that it buys time for thorough investigation and prevents further harm to the organization or customers.
    D4 – Root Cause Analysis:
    D4 is where the team conducts a deep analysis using tools like 5W2H, Ishikawa, and 5 Whys. The goal is to identify the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms. The benefits include addressing the underlying issues to prevent recurrence and making data-driven decisions.
    D5 – Corrective Actions:
    With the root causes identified in D4, D5 focuses on developing and implementing corrective actions. These actions are designed to eliminate or mitigate the root causes and address the problem systematically. The benefit is the formulation of a solution that prevents the problem from reoccurring.
    D6 – Verification of Corrective Actions:
    D6 involves verifying that the corrective actions from D5 are effective. This step ensures that the implemented changes indeed address the root causes and resolve the issue. The benefit is the confirmation that the problem has been effectively addressed.
    D7 – Preventive Actions:
    To prevent similar problems in the future, D7 concentrates on developing preventive actions. These actions aim to enhance processes and systems, making them more robust and less susceptible to similar issues. The benefit is the creation of a proactive approach to problem prevention.
    D8 – Closure and Team Recognition:
    In the final step, D8, the team reviews the entire process, documents the lessons learned, and formally closes the 8D report. Recognizing and appreciating the team’s efforts is crucial for motivation and encourages a culture of continuous improvement. The benefit is a sense of accomplishment and the incorporation of lessons into future problem-solving endeavors.

    A3 Problem Solving

    A3 problem-solving is a structured approach that encourages clear documentation of problem identification, root cause analysis, and solution implementation on a single A3-sized sheet of paper. It promotes concise and effective communication during the problem-solving process.


    Step 1: Define the Problem

    • Title: Begin by giving the problem a clear and concise title that captures its essence.
    • Description: Provide a brief but thorough description of the problem. Explain when and where it occurs, its impact, and any relevant background information. Use data to support your description.
    • Current State: Present the current situation or process related to the problem. Include key performance metrics and data to illustrate the current state.

    Step 2: Analyze the Current State

    • Root Cause Analysis: Use problem-solving tools like the 5 Whys, Fishbone Diagram, or other relevant methods to delve into the root causes of the problem. Document these causes and their interrelationships.
    • Data Analysis: Utilize data and performance metrics to support your analysis. Charts, graphs, and visual representations can be particularly effective in conveying information.

    Step 3: Set a Target

    • Target Condition: Clearly define the desired future state or target condition that represents the solution to the problem. Be specific and detailed about what success looks like.
    • Gap Analysis: Highlight the gap between the current state and the target condition. This emphasizes the need for improvement and change.

    Step 4: Develop and Test Countermeasures

    • Countermeasures: Propose specific actions and countermeasures to address the root causes identified in the analysis. Ensure that these actions are actionable steps that will lead you toward the target condition.
    • Action Plan: Create a timeline with milestones for implementing the countermeasures. Assign responsibilities to team members and establish deadlines.
    • Expected Outcomes: Clearly define the expected results and benefits of implementing the countermeasures. Use measurable criteria to assess success.

    Step 5: Evaluate Results

    • Verification: Implement the proposed countermeasures and closely monitor progress. Gather data and evidence to evaluate whether the changes are having the intended impact.
    • Observations: Document any observations, unexpected results, or lessons learned during the implementation phase. These insights can inform future problem-solving efforts.

    Step 6: Standardize

    • Standard Work: Once the countermeasures have proven effective, establish standard work procedures to ensure that the improvements are sustained over time.
    • Training and Communication: Ensure that team members are trained on the new standard procedures and that changes are effectively communicated to relevant stakeholders.

    Step 7: Reflect and Share

    • Reflection: Take time to reflect on the entire problem-solving process. Consider what worked well, what could be improved, and any valuable lessons learned for future problem solving.
    • Sharing and Documentation: Share the A3 report with the team and key stakeholders to disseminate the knowledge gained from the problem-solving process. Archive the report for reference and continuous improvement efforts.

    Remember, the A3 problem-solving process is designed to promote clarity, brevity, and a systematic approach to addressing problems. It encourages teams to be data-driven and solution-focused while fostering a culture of continuous improvement within an organization.

    Top 3 Root Cause Analysis Tools

    5W2H Analysis

    5W2H, which stands for Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and How Much, is a method that places a strong emphasis on real observations and data collection. The best practice is to have a data collection or observation sheet readily available on the machine or at the place of work where the problem occurs. This allows personnel to document their observations in real-time, ensuring accurate and objective information.

    Crucially, 5W2H is designed to separate facts from hearsay, assumptions, or word-of-mouth accounts. By relying on concrete observations and data, it minimizes the risk of subjective interpretations or opinions skewing the problem’s understanding. To get the most out of 5W2H, it’s essential to compare similarities and differences across various machines, teams, or individuals. By looking for patterns and commonalities, you can identify key factors contributing to the problem and formulate more effective solutions.

    Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagram

    The Ishikawa Diagram, also known as the Fishbone Diagram, is structured into five main branches, each representing a category of potential root causes:

    1. People: This branch addresses issues related to human factors, including training, skills, communication, and team dynamics. It explores how personnel and their interactions may influence the problem.
    2. Process: Under the process branch, you investigate problems associated with the procedures, workflows, and methods used. It delves into process efficiency, consistency, and compliance with established standards.
    3. Equipment: Issues related to machinery, tools, and technology are examined here. This branch explores whether equipment maintenance, design, or performance may be contributing to the problem.
    4. Materials: Material-related problems, such as quality, availability, or suitability for the task at hand, fall under this branch. It assesses how the choice and condition of materials affect the issue.
    5. Environment: The environmental branch considers factors such as the workplace environment, ambient conditions, and external influences. It helps uncover whether surroundings or external factors play a role in the problem.

    By systematically analyzing these five branches, the Ishikawa Diagram provides a comprehensive view of potential causes, making it easier to pinpoint the root cause.

    5 Whys Analysis

    The 5 Whys technique is a powerful tool that aims to explore the underlying causes of a problem by asking “Why?” repeatedly. It encourages deep introspection and examination of causal relationships. By repeatedly questioning the surface-level symptoms, you can uncover the deeper layers of the problem and its root causes. The effectiveness of 5 Whys lies in its simplicity and focus on driving to the core issues, making it a valuable technique for problem-solving across various domains and industries.

    Integrating Root Cause Analysis Tools

    In this section, we’ll outline a comprehensive approach that seamlessly integrates the 5W2H analysis, the Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagram, and the 5 Whys technique into a cohesive problem-solving process. This approach ensures clarity in problem statements, leverages cross-functional teams, fosters rigorous experimentation, and maintains a holistic perspective.

    Step 1: Observation and Data Collection (5W2H)

    The initial problem statement is often broad and vague. The first step in this integrated process is to refine the problem statement using the 5W2H analysis. The goal is to transform it into a clear, specific, and actionable statement. Incorporate answers to questions like where, who, when, and how. This refined problem statement serves as the foundation for the entire investigation and specifically will be the head of your Fishbone diagram.

    Use this tool to understand the real problem statement by asking questions such as Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and How Much. Importantly, ensure that this analysis is grounded in real observations and data. To do this, place data collection or observation sheets at the machine or workplace where the problem occurs. This step is crucial for gathering accurate and factual information while separating it from assumptions and anecdotal stories.

    Step 2: Fishbone Analysis

    With a clear problem statement established through 5W2H, proceed to the Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagram. This powerful visual tool allows you to categorize and collect all possible causes of the problem. The five branches of the Fishbone Diagram—People, Process, Equipment, Materials, and Environment—help organize your analysis. During this step, it’s essential to systematically eliminate potential causes that can be checked using existing standards and data, such as process control parameters and maintenance records.

    To harness diverse perspectives and expertise, assemble a cross-functional team. This team serves as a powerful brainstorming tool during the problem-solving process. Encourage open discussions, idea sharing, and the exploration of various angles. By involving individuals from different backgrounds and skill sets, you can uncover hidden insights and innovative solutions that may not have surfaced otherwise.

    Step 3: Experimental Investigation

    Effective experimentation is essential for identifying root causes and validating hypotheses. Design experiments that allow you to turn the problem on and off during testing, aligning with the scientific method. For example, when dealing with machinery issues, create controlled experiments involving a wide range of process settings. Safely explore extremes, both low and high, to observe how the machine responds. If you suspect a specific factor, such as a bent carton causing jams, manually manipulate the factor in various directions and angles to assess its impact. While there may be a cost associated with these trials, they serve as a combination of scientific modeling and empirical testing, providing valuable insights and a deeper understanding of the machine’s behavior.

    Step 4: Root Cause Understanding

    Once you’ve identified the root causes through experimentation, delve deeper into understanding why the problem happened. This involves linking together work processes, systems, and any multiple root causes that may have contributed to the issue. As you progress through the problem-solving process, it’s essential to keep the big picture in mind. Avoid tunnel vision by continually assessing how the identified root causes fit into the broader context of the organization’s processes, systems, and goals. Understanding the systemic implications of the root causes allows you to formulate a more comprehensive improvement plan that not only resolves the immediate issue but also enhances overall operational efficiency and reliability. By gaining a comprehensive understanding, you can formulate a clear and targeted improvement plan. This plan should address not only the immediate issue but also the underlying factors to prevent future recurrences.

    Step 5: Stabilization and Standardization

    To prevent the problem’s reoccurrence, focus on stabilization and standardization. Implement robust standards and procedures that align with the improvement plan. These standards should be designed to ensure consistent processes, maintain the gains achieved, and provide a framework for ongoing monitoring and control.

    Other investigation techniques and supporting frameworks

    1. Pareto Analysis: This technique involves identifying the most significant factors contributing to a problem or an outcome. The Pareto Principle, often referred to as the “80/20 rule,” suggests that a small number of causes are responsible for the majority of problems. It is mainly used to select and prioritize the problems to be able to focus your efforts and resources and maximize the benefits.
    2. PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act): The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle, is a continuous improvement method. It involves planning, executing, checking the results, and acting on those results to refine the process or solve problems. Implementing PDCA framework helps to create a culture of performance and accountability. It emphasises the validation of the actions and enables multiple iterations, trials during problem solving.
    3. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control): DMAIC is a structured methodology within Six Sigma for process improvement. It is used to identify and eliminate defects or variations in processes systematically. DMAIC is much more a simplified project management framework thana problem solving methodology, but it gives an amazing tool in your hands if you start a complex problem-solving journey.
    4. TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving): TRIZ, the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” is a methodology developed by Russian engineer Genrich Altshuller for creative and systematic problem-solving. It’s based on the idea that there are recurring patterns and principles behind innovative solutions that can be applied to various challenges. TRIZ offers 40 inventive principles that guide problem solvers in generating creative ideas. By emphasizing the elimination of root causes and cross-disciplinary thinking, TRIZ has been widely used in industries like aerospace and manufacturing to drive innovation and solve complex technical problems.
    5. Fault Tree Analysis (FTA): FTA is a method used in safety and reliability engineering to analyze the causes of complex failures. It uses a graphical representation of events and their logical relationships to identify the root causes of failures.
    6. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): FMEA is a systematic approach to identify and prioritize potential failure modes in a process or system. It assesses the severity, occurrence, and detection of each failure mode to prioritize improvements.
    7. SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Request): SCAR is a structured method used by organizations to request corrective actions from suppliers when product or service quality issues arise in the supply chain.
    8. Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP): HAZOP is commonly used in the chemical and process industries to identify and assess potential hazards and operability problems in systems and processes.

    These are just a few examples of problem-solving and investigation techniques. The choice of method depends on the nature of the problem, available resources, and the organization’s goals for continuous improvement and problem resolution.Top of Form

    How to start?

    Before diving into problem investigation, consider these basic checks:

    • Cleanliness: Ensure cleanliness in the work environment.
    • Machine Base Condition: Review maintenance records and ensure machines are in good condition.
    • Process Control Parameters: Check process control parameters, including midrange and centerline values.

    Remember, many problems can be resolved by restoring the baseline conditions without the need for extensive improvements.

    I hope, that this concise handbook provides a structured approach to problem investigation and resolution, emphasizing the 8D methodology and key root cause analysis tools. By following these steps and conducting pre-investigation checks, teams can effectively address and prevent recurring issues, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

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