Problem Solving Made Easy

Posted by on Jun 1, 2011 in Problem Solving | 0 comments

Problem solving takes some effort but can be exciting and fun!  The thrill of finding the root cause and eliminating it can be a very satisfying experience.  But why is it that some people are more adept at solving problems than others?  What process, tools, or techniques make them more successful?
There are a few basic principles that you need to incorporate in order to become a good problem solver.  The first is to use a structured process, such as PDCA, DMAIC, etc.  Using such a process causes you to plan and think about the deliverables needed at each step.  It forces you to use a step-by-step approach rather than jumping from one idea to another.
It is important to fully understand the process.  Spend time observing what happens on a daily basis.  Look at different employees, different shifts, different days, different lots of raw material, etc.  These are what we call families of variation and the dominant or root cause will live in one of these families.
Another principle is the idea of convergence.  Converge on the root cause by using a process of elimination starting at a macro level and working toward a micro level.  An example of this is playing the dictionary game.  In this game you have to determine the word I’m thinking of using a dictionary and you can only ask yes or no questions.  Your first question might be, “Does the word begin with the letter a?” or “Is the word an adjective?” etc.  But a better strategy would be to ask the question, “Does the word begin with the letter a thru l?”  It doesn’t matter what the answer is because either way you’ve eliminated half the possibilities.  Lets say the answer is yes.  Your next question would be “Does the word begin with the letter a thru f?”  Within a few questions you can get to the page in the dictionary and finally to the word.  Using convergence we keep narrowing the possibilities rather than brainstorming or shot-gunning a solution.
Another technique or principle is comparing the extremes of good and bad.  Lay them side-by-side and compare what is different between the good and bad parts.  This can help you generate clues and lead you to the dominant cause.  Comparing defective parts can also help you stratify the parts into different failure modes, which will have different root causes.
Using the above principles you need to have patience and plan, execute, and analyze a number of smaller investigations.  You need to avoid the temptation to jump to a specific cause too soon.

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