How Ineffective Problem-Solving Disrupts Lean Manufacturing

David P. Hicks
Contributing Writer

Problem-solving production issues is an essential aspect of Lean manufacturing but often becomes challenging if manufacturers use problem-solving methods and tools that don’t align with the type of problem being addressed. Choosing the wrong problem-solving solution is typically a result of incorrectly identifying or defining the problem.

According to operations experts David Hicks and Tim Nickerson from TBM Consulting Group, problems occur across a continuum - where at one end you have simple, “just fix it” type of problems, and on the other end, are complicated problems. Though there isn’t a single universal checklist for evaluating a problem and choosing the correct problem-solving method and toolset, manufacturers must have the ability to gather real-time data to enable a more rapid analysis to then be able to effectively identify the root cause of the problem and develop a solution.

"Searching for the Root Cause will become a part of everyone's job"

Often, manufacturers tend to focus on the symptoms of the problem rather than the underlying cause, leading to temporary fixes. By not effectively addressing the root cause, these problems will reoccur and could lead to increased downtime, cause a reduction of product quality, and negatively impact customer satisfaction.

If manufacturing departments work in silos, then effective problem-solving is at risk. Manufacturers can adopt a systematic approach that involves using multiple data sets to look at the problem holistically and involving all stakeholders, including operators, technicians, and managers, in the problem-solving process. This allows for different perspectives and ideas, which can lead to more effective solutions.

Standardized Problem-Solving to Prevent Recurrence

If different manufacturing teams use different methods to solve problems, then it will be difficult to measure the effectiveness of the solutions and improve the process.

Depending on the complexity of the problem, implementing a standardized problem-solving process will introduce a structured approach to identify, analyze, and solve each type of problem that occurs.

Problem-Solving Tools

“There is a distinction between information-driven problem-solving tools and data-driven problem-solving tools. Information-driven tools are focused on a sense of urgency and a capacity to get things done, not elegance. Data-driven tools use process monitoring to get a visual sense of how a process is performing.”

Tim Nickerson | TBM Consulting

Information-driven tools used for identifying the underlying cause of basic problems include the “Just do it” model, 5 Whys principle, and Fishbone diagrams. Data-driven tools used for more complex problem-solving include trend charts, control charts, and Pareto analysis.

Problem-Solving Methods

“All problem-solving mythologies are rooted in the Scientific Method. We observe the problem, we hypothesize what is causing it, we test a solution, and confirm it works.”

David Hicks | TBM Consulting Group

One key problem-solving method is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, also known as the Deming cycle. This method involves identifying a problem, developing and implementing a solution, checking the results, and then making adjustments as necessary. This cycle can be repeated as many times as needed to achieve the desired results.

DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) is another common problem-solving methodology that involves the analysis of collected data to identify potential solutions that are tested, implemented, and controlled to ensure that the improvement is sustained.

A third method for more complicated problems is known as 8D which stands for eight steps in the problem-solving process:

  1. Establish the team

  2. Describe the problem

  3. Implement temporary containment actions

  4. Identify root causes

  5. Identify and implement corrective actions

  6. Implement preventive measures

  7. Verify effectiveness

  8. Congratulate the team!

This methodology involves a disciplined and systematic approach to ensuring that the solutions implemented are effective and sustainable.

Problem-Solving for the Future

Selecting the right problem-solving method and tool may not be precise. But if you incorporate a systematic and collaborative approach, you will be able to effectively identify the root cause of the problem, include all relevant stakeholders across the plant, and implement a standardized problem-solving processes that prevent recurrence. To learn the right approaches for your company, watch: Fixing the Problems in Your Operations Problem-Solving Methods.