Problem Solving: Torture Your Data Till It Screams!

Posted by on Dec 2, 2010 in Problem Solving, Process Improvement | 2 comments

When trying to solve a problem always try to get as much information from the data that already exists.  The data may contain clues that will lead you to the root cause of the problem.
A technique I use is stratifying the data.  Begin at a macro level and work down to micro levels.  Here’s an example.
A plant in China was having a large problem with damage product being received from the US.  The Chinese plant would issue a weekly customer complaint and provide the product information, such as date, machine, part number, tool number, shift, and operator identification.  The producing plant in the US, without looking at the data, thought the problem was due to shipping the product overseas in large cargo ships and tried to solve the problem by making the packaging more robust, which added cost to the product.  After a few months, the problem had not been resolved and the Asia quality manager ask me to get involved.
I started by analyzing the customer complaint information.  I made a matrix of the number of complaints by date, by shift, by machine, by tool number, and by operator identification.  Date, machine, and tool number were random and not significant.  However, there were many more complaints on PM shift and two PM operators accounted for more than 40% of the total complaints.  I then met with the PM supervisor and we observed one of the two PM operators.  We both watched in disbelief as the operator dropped the product into the shipping container instead gently placing it in as per the prescribed method.
A few key points to remember are 1.  Make sure to use the information you already have and try to stratify the data if you can; 2. Don’t jump to conclusions and start shot-gunning solutions; 3. Always try to observe the problem first-hand.

2 Responses to “Problem Solving: Torture Your Data Till It Screams!”

  1. Hi Jim,

    That was indeed a great job. Well, this is Sarang from India. We share the same interest area of problem solving. The example you have mentioned in your post “Problem Solving: Torture Your Data Till It Screams” is the best example of the “Critical Thinking” the oldest thinking methodology from the 20th century. The critical thinking says situation should be analysed based on data, facts & information which you did and you added value to information by putting it in matrix form, that was new insight to analysis. If you don't mind can I put your example on my blog under critical thinking. You can find quick details on critical thinking on my blog

    Have great day ahead.

  2. Hello Jim, seems like you are doing great job and helping people with your great experience and expertise. Pankaj aggarwal, svp, lufthansa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.