Problem Solving

The humming sound of the AC compressor was penetrating the deafening silence in the Kaizen™ Promotion Office. The closing presentation or Report-out session is going on. The teams have just concluded their presentations on Breakthrough Kaizens they have done during this week. It is the time for the CEO to record his remarks and observations.

The CEO stood up and greeted the team, “50 PPM..” and the team replied, “2020” – an unique way of greeting and reminding their goal to be achieved in days to come. He went on, “.. friends, be clear that practicing Kaizen™ will never be stopped in our Organization, because I want each of you to go back home on time and this is possible only if you all practiced Kaizen™. Having gone through your presentations, I would like to say that I get a worse feel of Déjà vu. To me it seems, we have been there already. These problems were attended earlier and resolved but surprising is that they are coming back. We are good at removing them but not keeping them away from coming back….”

Precisely, this is the concern in every organization. Problem solving is perhaps, a phrase quite often used in the daily life of every Corporate Organization. It would not be an exaggerated statement if it is expressed that few of the Quality Problems in any Organization are as old as the Organization itself! In general, if one observes it closely, it would be clear that it is the same problems which are lingering around from time and again in the organization. The Leaders might be claiming that they have solved the problems thoroughly however, one would find these problems keep resurfacing back! In most of the cases, the list of problems remain the same over years. Quite rarely one would find new problems cropping up.

The leadership team, whenever finds that a particular issue is proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the organization, would launch a special drive to tackle it. Special task force teams will be formed, much attention will be paid, lots of work would be done, at times, external consultants would be engaged too to support the organization solving these problems. Obviously then, as expected, the problems would be resolved

however, the irony is, they keep coming back after some time. Waste (defect) is removed but not kept away from coming back.

One has to keep in mind that whenever they address to the quality problems, the five Golden Rules of Gemba

  1. Whenever there is a problem, visit the Gemba
  2. Check the Gembutsu (Genchi Gembutsu)
  3. Temporary solution to the problem as to keep the production line operational
  4. Root-cause Analysis of the problem, listing of counter-measures, validating & implementing
  5. Standardisation of the improvements made

The term, “Problem solving” remains same but the methodologies vary, for example, 8-D, A-3, QRQC, Six Sigma, Differential Diagnosis, 7 QC tools etc.,  The Organization should adapt the one that suits them the most or that suits their team the most. Or they can also develop one of their own with best practices from one or combination of the methodologies available.  

It is a bitter truth that almost in all Indian Organizations, Quality team holds the responsibility of the Quality issues although they are produced by other teams. This mindset should change. The Quality and the pace of Problem solving will get badly affected if all the functions are not actively involved in the problem-solving process. Another blunder which the organization does is to ignore the value-adders in the problem-solving process. They can contribute in a better manner than others as they are the ones with direct contact to the processes. People are not problems but they are problem-solvers says Kaizen™. It has to be kept in mind while forming the problem solving team to involve members from cross functions and to have value-adders as core-members.

Once the methodology is frozen to be adapted and also the team members are chosen, now it is the time for the members to be trained on the methodology opted. The capabilities of the members need to be developed as to get the right results from the projects which will be carried out. Training does not mean only class room trainings. On-Job-Training, brainstorming sessions on the day-to-day problems faced, collaborative root cause analysis also enhance one’s capabilities. Post-training, the members can be evaluated and certified, if required. The team members should be allowed to work on problem solving on a daily basis as to get their skills updates constantly.

What is measured is improved. This goes well with monitoring too. Any performance when monitored closely, yields improvement. Making the metrics visual increases the pace of improvement as it keeps hitting the eyes of one and all in the organization and acts as a reminder on what needs to be done on a real-time basis. A well-designed metrics chart displayed near the Gemba helps this.

Natural problem solvers are not easily available. One has to develop them. Apart from providing training, motivation is the key to develop Natural problem solvers. It also comes by practice. Unless we tracked our process every day looking for problems (or looking for opportunities to improve), we cannot develop this competency. Motivation need not necessarily be monetary rewards – recognition too helps.

What we learn from history is, we do not learn from history. Quite often the problems do repeat because we fail to standardize the improvements we have made while resolving a problem. Or in other words, we are not recording the learning. We cannot do Kaizen™ if we do not standardize. Proper recording of the history is the key. Courtesy, technological advances, we can have the history recorded on a real-time basis with proper MES and saving in the cloud. Creating a OPL library is pivotal. An Organization should initiate a Knowledge bank of problems faced and solutions implemented by means of creating a One-Point-Lesson Library. This would help in communication across the tiers of Value-adders, team-leaders, cell-supervisors and Managers from time and again. This OPL library can be used as an Induction Manual too. Whenever a problem is occurred, the team can refer to the last solution that was implemented. 

SDCA & PDCA

Building Problem Solving culture in an organization would take time. The Senior Management team needs to provide adequate resources to the problem solving team and keep at it for a medium term to ensure a good Problem solving culture is implemented.

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