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The Problem with Problems: Methods and Tools for Problem Solving, Part 2

The Problem with Problems: Methods and Tools for Problem Solving, Part 2

By Bob Sproull

Review of Methods and Tools for Problem Solving, Part 1

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how deadlines and pressure result in mistakes in problem solving. To achieve effective corrective action, a calm and collected response, with judicious use of proven tools is necessary. I also defined the two types of problems, each of which requires a distinct approach (with appropriate tools) to problem solving. Change-related problems require finding the initial catalyst, while launch-related problems demand that we find differences between manufactured products.

Introducing 4 methods and tools every manufacturing manager should use

A basic understanding of which tools to use and when to use them is a prerequisite for problem solving in all disciplines, especially manufacturing. In this series, I will present four basic tools that can be used to answer specific questions in the process of determining the root cause(s) of a problem. The four tools are as follows:

  1. Run Chart
  2. Pareto Chart
  3. Cause and Effect Diagram
  4. Causal Chain

The Run Chart answers the question of when the problem began and helps to identify change-related problems. The Pareto Chart tells the problem-solving team where the problem is and who has the problem. The Cause and Effect Diagram helps the team create a list of potential causes, while the Causal Chain helps the team formulate the chain of events that ultimately leads to the problem source and potential solution. Although other tools can be used, mastery of these four simple tools will help any team solve most problems.

The Run Chart identifies if and when a change has occurred

One of the first steps in problem solving is to answer four questions:

  1. When did the problem begin?
  2. When has the problem occurred since its inception?
  3. What is the current status of the problem?
  4. What has been the impact of any changes made to the process in order to solve the problem?

The Run Chart, which is used to evaluate the results of an intended change when we implement a solution to a problem, helps us to answer all of the above questions. It is a graphical representation of the problem being tracked as a function of time. Time is placed along the horizontal axis (x-axis) and whatever you are measuring is placed along the vertical axis (y-axis).

Here is an example of a Run Chart:

The Pareto Chart helps us to visualize differences in performance

The Pareto Chart is a comparative tool. If we suspect differences in performance between things like machines, people, or even days of the week, then we can visualize these differences with a Pareto Chart.

The genesis of the Pareto Chart is an interesting story. An Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto was studying the distribution of wealth in Italy in the 19th century. When he assembled his data, he discovered that approximately 80 percent of the wealth in Italy was controlled by only 20 percent of the population. Later Dr. Joseph Juran, a noted American quality guru, further developed Pareto’s inadvertent discovery and named this phenomena the Pareto Principle. Juran found that the Pareto Principle applied to many different things like absenteeism, defects, and accidents. The principle applies when 80 percent of problems are manifested in 20 percent of the items with the problem. The Pareto Principle is similar to Occam’s Razor in that it is not an absolute scientific principle, but an efficient problem-solving tool.

This is a graphical representation of a Pareto Chart:

In my next post, I will introduce the Cause and Effect Diagram and the Causal Chain.

Bob Sproull

About the author

Bob Sproull has helped businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.

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