Many tools exist to address deviations and defects, but only a few are simple yet effective to address daily issues in manufacturing, development, administration.
When starting systematic trouble-shooting, it is important to choose the right approach. Using a comprehensive method that requires 50 pages to solve a simple problem is a waste of time, while solving a complex problem with a simple tool will most likely not reveal the hidden causes. The optimal choice of Problem Solving Tools depends on the type of issues to be addressed. Before going into details, let’s first review the most common methods used today.
Comparing Popular Methods: 3W, PDCA, 8D, A3, DMAIC, 7STEP
At their core, all scientific approaches follow a similar logic: take quick action to prevent the problem from getting worse and then define the gap, analyze the gap, identify causes, take action, evaluate impact, and embed the solution so that the problem will not reoccur.
- 3W: When the issue is small and the solution is obvious, a formal analysis is not required. The 3W-method defines What to do, Who to do it, by When. This “quick-fix” or “just-do-it” is commonly applied at daily team meetings to contain and correct snags and minor issues.
- PDCA: The Deming or Shewhart cycle “Plan-Do-Check-Act” is the classic method, used by over 80% companies that practice systematic problem solving. PDCA is effective for medium-size problems that require a systematic analysis to uncover underlying causes.
- 8D: The eight disciplines (8D) are commonly used in automotive, and the problem-solving process (PSP) in avionics. Both methods are similar, using 8 steps to address complex problems with focus on a fast reaction to non-conformances, completing the first three steps within three days.
- A3: The A3-report, developed by Toyota, is an 8-step improvement and problem-solving process that fits on one sheet of paper. The A3-report is most effective to address small- to medium-size problems, and to structure improvement projects.
- DMAIC: The 5-step Six Sigma process “Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control” is a data-centric solving method. DMAIC is used to structure projects and solve complex situations that require statistical analysis to develop the solution, e.g. adjust process parameters to reduce yield loss.
- 7STEP: This seven-step (7S) problem-solving process shares elements with the A3 and 8D, but does not include a formal step for containment. Because of this weakness, the 7STEP process is rarely used today, replaced by 8D to address major deviations and PDCA for smaller issues.
Comparing the most-popular processes for trouble-shooting and root-cause analysis shows how similar they are. For example, the PDCA planning phase covers the first three steps in DMAIC and the first five steps in A3 and 8D. Of all those processes, there are two that stick out, that all others are based on – PDCA and 8D – they are therefore considered the “mother” and “father” of practical problem solving tools used today.
Answer 5 Questions to Select the Best Method
When it comes to choosing the right process, it merely depends on the complexity of the situation to address. The more complex or severe, the more formal steps should be applied to make sure no step is missed. Here are five questions that will help you selecting the best process:
- Is the issue small, medium, or large?
- Is the solution obvious or unknown?
- Is it reoccurring or a single incident?
- Is it a single cause or multiple causes?
- Is statistical data analysis required?
3 Practical Problem Solving Tools: Fix, Fish, Tree
There are three practical, yet effective tools to address daily issues in factory and office: The 3W or “Fix” because it is quick, simple, informal;, the PDCA or “Fish” because it is based on the Ishikawa or Fishbone diagram;, and the 8D or “Tree” because it uses logical trees to analyze complex root causes.
- Fix: use 3W (What-Who-When) for informal trouble-shooting, finding a quick action to fix a small issue within a day.
- Fish: use PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) to analyze simple and repeat issues within a week, using the fishbone diagram.
- Tree: use 8D (Eight Disciplines) to systematically eliminate multiple root-causes or complex problems within a month.
Tools and Templates to Eliminate Root Causes
To encourage people to go beyond containment and quick fixes, the method they use must be simple and practical, but also effective and efficient. Over the course of several years, we have tested dozens of different templates and found that the following two forms work best by far. Why? Because the user is given a clear structure, enhanced with pictograms, and the entire solving process can be completed on a single sheet, the key for broad adoption.
The PDCA and 8D templates have proven to be extremely effective in addressing non-conformances; they are practical problem solving tools for teams in manufacturing, quality control, product development, healthcare, back office, and corporate administration to successfully resolve daily issues and prevent them from coming back. You can download the free toolkit in 22 languages here.
Use PDCA Template to Solve Simple Problems
4 Steps to Eliminate Simple Causes
- Plan-1 Record Problem: Describe what happened, where and when, and who is involved solving it.
- Plan-2 Analyze Problem: Assign potential causes to categories: Man, Method, Machine, Material, Management, Milieu (Environment).
- Plan-3 Identify Causes: Ask “why” to drill down to root causes; for complex problems, use several forms, one per branch or issue.
- Do Implement Actions: Create and implement an action plan to contain, correct, and prevent the problem from reoccurring.
- Check Results and Act: Review impact, standardize solution; close the case or initiate further actions by starting a new PDCA cycle.
Use 8D Template to Solve Complex Problems
8 Steps to Eliminate Complex Causes
- D0 Plan: Register problem and define emergency response.
- D1 Team: Identify team members to address the problem.
- D2 Problem: Grasp the situation and describe the problem.
- D3 Containment: Prevent the problem from spreading.
- D4 Diagnostics: Identify direct causes and root causes.
- D5 Correction: Define and prioritize corrective actions.
- D6 Validation: Implement actions and evaluate effectiveness.
- D7 Prevention: Systemize solutions to prevent reoccurrence.
- D8 Completion: Transfer knowledge and recognize contributors.