In my last post, I examined the three distinctly different types of problems and explained the unique considerations and methods for solving each type. As a refresher, the three problem types are:
- Change-related problems
- Chronic problems
- Hybrid problems
Throughout this series, much of what you will read is taken from my soon-to-be published book, “The Problem-Solving, Problem-Prevention, and Decision-Making Guide—Organized and Systematic Roadmaps for Managers,” CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group, LLC), scheduled for release in April.
In today’s post, I will introduce, explain, and illustrate two new road maps to help manufacturers methodically address problem solving and problem prevention.
Problem-solving road map
This road map belongs in the “glove box” of every manufacturing organization. I cannot overstate the importance of following a logical, systematic, and structured approach to solving problems, like this tool offers. There are four reasons for this:
- A systematic approach keeps the team focused and helps discourage individuals from wandering aimlessly. Many times, I have witnessed teams struggling with a sense of direction or what to do next, but once they were presented with a road map to follow, they stayed on track and made significant and rapid progress.
- Using a structured approach helps the team understand what information is needed, and then facilitates the sourcing and organization of data, information, and interpretations. It separates what is important from what is not important.
- By using and following a systematic approach, with its logical progression of tasks and activities, the probability of finding the true root cause increases significantly.
- By using a structured approach in a team setting, the maximum utilization of resources can be achieved in the shortest period of time. In other words, problems get solved completely, in considerably much less time, with full participation of the team. The figure below is the road map that I have created to help solve problems.
If you follow this road map step by step, the methodology it offers will make your work easier and enhance your chances of problem-solving success.
Although this road map was created to assist teams in solving problems, it is equally effective when used as a vehicle for process improvement. Not only is the road map in complete alignment with the Six Sigma methodology of define, measure, analyze, improve, and control; it is also in alignment with the problem-solving teachings within Jeffrey Liker’s  The Toyota Way. All of the elements included here coincide with the actions needed to improve processes. The implication is that it isn’t necessary to wait for a problem to be declared before using the road map.
Problem-prevention road map
It seems that we spend an inordinate amount of time working to solve problems that already exist, when many of our problems could have been avoided if we had simply taken the time to work on preventing them. Fundamentally, prevention involves identifying potential areas of vulnerability and the problems that could occur within these areas, and then developing and implementing actions aimed at either preventing them or reducing the probability that they will occur, or even lessening their effects in the event that our prevention plans didn’t work as we had envisioned they would.
If you think about it, it makes much more sense to tie up resources working on preventing negative performance than it does spending time trying to understand why the negative performance happened in the first place. Being a preventive organization has so many more benefits than being a reactive organization. Just think about how negative performance affects an organization for a moment. Original problems create additional problems like scrap and rework, late shipments and missed deliveries, and higher inventory levels. The list goes on.
Imagine how things might look in your company or organization if you minimized the number of problems you had by being preventive instead of reactive. Just as with problem solving, there are directions, or a road map that can be followed to successfully analyze and hopefully prevent future potential problems. If you will diligently follow this road map, I am convinced that you will significantly improve your chances of becoming a more proactive organization, anticipating problems rather than reacting to them.
Each of the segments above includes individual actions that are focused solely on future potential events. If you execute these actions, you will likely achieve one of these results:
- Completely prevent the problem.
- Increase the probability that if the problem does occur, you will be able to detect it before any damage is done.
- Minimize the impact or severity of the problem if it does occur.
The problem prevention road map is highly versatile for manufacturers. It can be used to evaluate proposed changes, equipment installations, personnel policy changes, and virtually anything that involves a future activity.
Coming in the next post
In the next post, I will discuss the final two road maps in this series—the decision making road map and the needs assessment road map. I’ll also review the purposes for each of the four road maps I have presented, so you’ll know exactly when to use each one.
Until next time.
 Jeffrey Liker, The Toyota Way, McGraw
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