This article appeared in the December 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
If you’re like me, you’re looking for problems to solve. But a solution without a known cause doesn’t keep a quality problem from recurring.
Over the summer, an electronics component manufacturer we had been working with to help them transition to the new ISO 9001 Quality Standard came to us with another request. They wanted a better approach to solving plant floor problems. They wanted to fix problems so that they could not reoccur.
After further discussion with their president and head of operations, we found that even with their Quality Management System, they barely skimmed the surface on making improvements. They lacked a company-wide view of how to manage problems through to lasting solutions, and any efforts to get to systemic root causes had low priority.
As a growing company, being good at fixing surface causes was not good enough. Reducing customer complaint and scrap was necessary to reduce waste and meet growing customer expectations. Their head of operations saw that they had underlying systems that they needed to fix in order to achieve lasting improvements.
We knew that they were in a mode of operation that many companies fall into:
- Lack of clear standards
- New employees (many fresh out of school)
- Some aging equipment
- Many processes dependent upon proper human actions
These conditions don’t change overnight but they were under pressure from a key customer to improve results, quickly!
Working together, we crafted a work plan to put three types of problems in the spotlight, each with a process owner and a small team. One problem related to variation in a machined component, another was a product design issue, and one was related to performance variation with an assembly machine.
Before training and challenging the three teams to address the problems, the president and his management team learned about the science of problem solving. Having the leaders work on a simple case study, we helped them see that:
- A problem is not described by one defective part in your hand… you have to look at other parts, observe the process and look for difference between conforming and non-conforming parts
- It is not possible to identify the cause of a problem if you don’t have enough clues about the problem … Guessing isn’t helpful
- You can’t create a lasting solution if you don’t know the true cause … Implementing an ineffective solution actually drives unnecessary costs
After the management group was trained to understand the process and ask the right questions of the team members, the three teams participated in an Effective Problem Solving workshop. In two days they were able to define their problem with facts and data, identify potential causes, and develop a plan to test causes that best fit the discovered clues.
Over the next four weeks, progressing at their own pace, each team narrowed the issues to the actual cause of their assigned problem, and were able to recommend systemic solutions that management was glad to consider, now with high priority.
By using a structured approach to problem solving to channel the knowledge and experience of your workforce, you will become better at fixing both the surface causes and underlying root cause of most problems.
Try it yourself. When you see a costly problem in a new light, you might find that by following a structured approach, you’ll prevent problems from recurring.