Here’s the death to problem solving:
A group of people sitting around a conference table trying to solve a technical manufacturing problem. Only one person in the group has actually seen the problem or defect, and the entire rest of the group hasn’t even seen the process first hand that created it. One person is outspoken of their particular idea, and eventually everyone “agrees” to buy into the argument and we march along with an action plan. This is probably the worst possible way to attack a problem – I call it “Engineering by Consensus.”
Here’s a better way:
- Go to the location of the issue.
- Roll out a whiteboard on wheels directly to the location of the problem. You do have a whiteboard on wheels, right? I have a whiteboard pre-marked with a fishbone diagram and a whiteboard version of an initial A3 problem solving structure. See the image.
- Assemble a cross-functional team. The team members must include at least one person directly involved with the process (like the operator or at a minimum the leading technician), and preferably someone from outside the functional area to bring in outside ideas.
- First agree on the background condition, current state, and preliminary goal/target condition. Be sure to physically handle and see the actual defect you are dealing with. If you need to, move the group to the appropriate inspection equipment (microscopes, measurement equipment, etc.). Note if you are not familiar with A3 thinking, there are many fantastic resources available to you. I would recommend Mike Osterling or Gemba Academy. (If you are also a worthy A3 trainer, consultant or resource, let me know.)
- Next, go through a detailed Process Map of the process in question. One of these days, I’ll go into greater depth of how I do this with my team, but the basic idea is that a Process Map shows not only the basic manufacturing steps, but also the inputs and the outputs to each of those steps. Note this is not to be confused with a flow chart, nor a Value Stream Map. Detailing out the inputs and outputs to the process is an amazingly effective way to understand a process.
- Next move on to the Fishbone Diagram with the team. Leave no stone unturned. Again there are many resources available for good fishbone diagrams out there if you haven’t done one before.
- Finally, after you have gone over your fishbone diagram and process map, you can prioritize the items you think are the most likely causes to your defect. You can get fancy and rank the potential root causes, and there are tools and techniques to do this, but just going over the items you identify on your fishbone diagram and highlighting them with a different color marker is fine.
- Finally, sketch out the experiment plans to truly identify the root cause of your problem.
- From there, it’s a matter of follow-through using the A3 approach.
Let me know what you think!!