Problem solving tools must be taught across all levels in an organisation to help people approach problem solving in a much more structured and scientific manner.
I have seen that more often than not the root cause is not properly identified and resolved.
Problems are everywhere, in different walks of life, and there are plenty of tools to solve problems; but sadly though all tools are taught to Quality Assurance / Control personnel with the assumption that problem solving is essentially solving quality problems and customer complaints. Customer complaints are indeed top on the list for problem solving, but there are other issues in the organization in areas such as human resources, business issues, operational processes which has problems that needs to be solved.
Some of the tools for problem solving are listed below:
Fish Bone Diagram: This is also called Ishikawa diagram wherein a cause and effect diagram similar to the bone of a fish is drawn and the tip ( or mouth) is the effect (or problem) ; and through a brainstorming session on each main branch or bone the potential main problem is noted down and the sub branches further divide the potential causes.
5 Why Analysis: This is a process of asking ‘Why?' 5 times; for example a) Why lose of battle? Because of loss of rider; b) Why loss of rider? Because of loss of horse; c) Why loss of Horse? Because of loss of horse shoe; d) Why loss of horse shoe? Because of loss of nail; e) Why loss of nail? Because of poor quality nail.
Issue Trees: In this case the main issue is listed as a question and the possible reasons and solutions are listed in the form of a tree. For example, Why is the productivity low? Because of machine interruptions - What are the main contributors to interruptions- what are the possible solutions.
While solving product failures it is very important to clearly understand the problem before any action is taken.
8 Discipline Approach: This is a 8 step approach more often used for solving customer complaints by describing, analyzing and identifying the root cause. The steps are a) Define the team, b) Describe the problem, c) Draw containment actions, d) Identify and Verify root cause, e) Develop corrective action plan, f)Implement and verify actions, g) Identify actions to prevent recurrence, h) Celebrate and communicate success.
If we look at all tools listed above, we will notice that all tools focus on addressing the root cause, but I have seen that more often than not the root cause is not properly identified and resolved. This seems to be a global problem from China in the far East to the USA in the far west. A easy way out seems to be "operator error"; and that's probably an easy way to feel good that the analysis is complete, but in most cases we will be able to identity a system issue that actually causes the problem. Recently I was reviewing the complaints in a plant in the US to arrive at a plant wide robust action; and I found a couple of analysis with the reason being stated as "operator error" We went to the work center to get some background of the problem, first of all the root cause was the machine error and the slip through in inspection of the set-up samples and regular audits was stated as operator error or negligence. I wanted to find out why the operator and the inspector missed seeing the defects while inspecting. Talking to the inspector, she said that she made it a practice to always take parts off the transparent tube while inspecting because it is clearer, and she was not sure how the others inspected; moreover she had problems with the lighting and the shadow falling on the table. So in this case, while the root cause of the problem is a machine issue, the root cause of inspection failure is also to do with the standard method used and the environment.
In a club which I am part of there was a dip in membership and attendance of regular members and guests for the weekly meetings was diminishing by the week. The group decided to shift the meeting day to weekends thinking that would have a positive effect; this was a decision without any thought of the root cause of the problem, but most people thought that we must give it a try and went ahead. Well that didn't work and things went from bad to worse, because weekends is really family time and most people would like to spend time at home or going for an outing.
While solving product failures it is very important to clearly understand the problem before any action is taken. A famous international brand watch I bought had a reliability problem; it would run slow once in a while. This is a complex problem because it doesn't occur frequently and not in any cyclic pattern. While handing over the watch for repair to the Indian agency, I was very insistent on explaining the problem; but the service person was really not concerned; and nor did their format have a design to gather the real issues faced by the customer; I knew that they would not solve the problem and as expected I had to return the watch for repair after 2 months. I guess the second time they might have changed the complete movement, and this can be costly to the manufacturer and also an opportunity to gather valuable data for the problem is lost. This experience was completely contrary to when I took my daughter for eye check up at Shankar Netralaya, the nurse had a detailed set of questions going into the history of grandparents, siblings and details of incidents when my wife was carrying.
It's heartening to see hospitals having a structured root cause analysis, because that has a direct impact on our health and life. Similarly we must do a thorough root cause analysis to solve problems like attrition, productivity loss, safety issues, business dip, drop in market share etc.
Since quality and problem solving is everybody's responsibility we at Tyco Electronics India have come up with Quality Training and Certification programs to cover all functions across the organization. In addition to this, Six Sigma training is imparted not just to manufacturing personnel, but also in transactional and administrative areas which helps people to approach problem solving in a much more structured and scientific manner.
Pradeep Kumar E.T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma , is the Country Manager- Operational Excellence with Tyco Electronics Corporation India Pvt Ltd. Feedback can be e- mailed to pradeep@ businessgyan.com