Cause and effect problem solving starts with an accurate description of the problem. And the people who experience the problem often know most about how to describe the problem.
Recently, I have worked with a client to help them solve a problem that has plagued them for months. One of their manufacturing operations is spending a lot of time repairing a specific product.
Watch the Product and get to know the People
With marching orders I went to the shop floor. My goal that day was to see how the people inspected the product of interest. For about 6 hours I watched and took notes. Every 30 minutes a new person would inspect the product. Not only did I get acquainted with the product I also got to know the people. Now we were on a first name basis.
I reviewed my notes and identified 10 inspection points and 9 defect types. Each inspection point is an opportunity for a specific defect type. I made my own visual inspect sheet and planned to use it the following day.
Watch the People and See How they Inspect
The next day I made my way out to the production line. Once there, I saw happy smiles and surprised looks. The people were happy to see me but surprised I was back. I soon learned that no one had taken an interest in how they work. To that I responded, “the people who see the problem know most about how to describe the problem.” I spent the rest of the day tracking each inspection point and learning from each person.
With data in hand I did some number crunching. One defect type accounted for 72% of all defect types and it’s isolated to a specific area of the part. I also discovered there were 4 production tools. One tool had a low repair rate, for this specific defect type, while the other had a high repair rate for the same defect type. Now I had my BOB (best of the best) and WOW (worst of the worst) parts.
Contrast the Difference, Ask the People What they Think, and Get Your Problem Statement!
The next day I made my way out to the production line. This time it was in the afternoon. The crew was now on a different shift rotation. When I dropped by you can image the surprised looks again. “What are you doing here,” they all asked. “I need your advice,” I replied. I displayed the BOB and WOW parts and asked the operators for their opinion. I wanted them to describe the difference in the severity for the specific defect type between the BOB and WOW parts.
There was some discussion among the operators and soon they were all in agreement. I used their description as a guide to develop the problem statement for my brainstorming session with various stakeholders.
A Great Problem Statement Brings Focus and Clarity to Brainstorming
So many times we go into brainstorming sessions where participants suggest potential roots causes without a clue about the problem statement. Every brain storming session needs a precise problem statement. In my case, getting the operators to describe the difference in severity is a great way to describe a problem. A precise problem statement brings clarity of thought to brainstorming and results in a focused list of potential roots causes. It leads us to a potential solution faster.
Engagement through Involvement
A great way to engage people is to involve people. When I want to develop a precise and meaningful problem statement, I engage the people who see the problem most often. Remember, the people who see the problem often know most about how to describe the problem. Their knowledge is valuable and often available – we just have to ask them.