An organisation consists of a group of people and a set of processes running. Every now and then problems will surface within the organisation; be it a long running product or service non-conformance (producing sets of defects or rejects), process variations, customer complaints and so on. There are many problem solving tools & techniques exist in this world that the business can undertake; Six Sigma, Lean, Root Cause Analysis, 7 QC Tools, 8 Discipline Problem Solving Approach, just to name a few. Many of these techniques have been integrated to become an integral part of Quality Management System like ISO 9001.
There are some commonalities exhibited in many of these problem solving techniques. Two of them are ‘problem identification’ and ‘formation of a team’ stage – which are essential to successfully address the problem(s). It doesn’t matter which stage comes first, as long as it undergoes both stage, it suffice.
Too often when a person was presented with a problem, he or she tends to jump straight to find the solutions without analysing the problem in detail. This of course is a common mistake. It is much more effective that a team is formed consisting of a leader (often is the problem owner), the subject matter experts & the supporting members who can assist with the problem solving. The team then proceed to spend a fair amount of time to analyse the problem in detail first. It has been found that if a team spent a good proportion of effort to study their set of problem rather than quickly identifying the solution or executing the improvements, they will have greater chance of success to solve the issue. Why? The answer is really simple because good problem identification can lead the team to the correct solutions identification. Once the problem has been analysed in great detail also, should there be a need to pull in more expertise, there is always room to reshuffle the team.
Let’s examine two real examples that took place in an electronics manufacturing company. The names & figures were deliberately left out for reasons of confidentiality. A mechanical reject has been plaguing a product produce by this company for many years and recently the reject is on an increasing trend. A team was assembled, consisting mostly of executive staffs and lead by a young project leader to tackle this on-going problem. They decided to pursue solving the problem using Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology since the team leader has gone through a Six Sigma approach training Halfway through the project, the team stalled. The production manager has to engage a consultant to jump-start back the effort. After studying the production process in detail, the consultant came to know that the mechanical reject was mainly produced during the manual handling of the product. To the consultant surprise none of the project team consists of any employees from the shop-floor. To address this, a few experienced operators were pulled into the team. The new members began to provide lots of insights on the magnitude of the problem and how it can occur. The information provided by the shop-floor enabled the project team to narrow down the root cause and eventually succeed in containing the reject to a manageable level.
On another event, the company was hit with a product problem that caused a huge yield loss at their customer site. One of the symptoms pinpoint mostly to a particular production process in the plant. A team was formed & the 8 Discipline Problem Solving methodology was used. It is a new problem that the team never faced before. Due to repeated customer pressure they are forced to come out with interim solutions at their production process – among them a $500,000 parts & facility upgrade to the production machines. However none of the solutions deployed by the team worked. Towards the end, the team came to realise that the source to the problem does not come from their own process at all, but rather from their supplier upstream processes. Should they spent more effort in exploring the problem in detail they would have avoided the earlier wastes of time, effort and resources. Realising this, they work together with their supplier and manage to put a stop to this issue.
Every methodology has its own merits in solving a problem. The success of solving the problem a lot of time the essence is on the correct team member selection & a good familiarity of the problem. Regardless of which problem solving techniques that the organisation wish to undertake it is always best to stick to the agreed technique throughout the entire span of the company operation & across all the different sites (if it is a big multinational corporation). This is to ensure a good consistency & it can involve the entire employees to speak same problem solving ‘language’.
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