In our work, we are often challenged with solving problems. Doing a very effective job in this area depends on three factors:
- Identifying and addressing the root cause
- Using that understanding to prevent the problem from surfacing again
- Working with a leadership team that supports our work and allows us to help form a big picture understanding of problems and their underlying causes
Over the summer, an electronics component manufacturer we had been working with to help transition to the new ISO 9001 Quality Standard, came to us for help. They wanted a better approach to solving plant floor problems so that they could not reoccur.
We knew that they were in a mode of operation that many companies face: lack of clear standards, new employees (many fresh out of school), some aging equipment, and 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 with their president and head of operations, we crafted a workplan 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 the third 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 differences 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 our 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.
When your senior leaders are engaged, the Luminous Group brings maximum value to your organization.
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.