7- Steps Problem Solving Method - Tutorial

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					The 7-Step Problem Solving Method
Overview
This methodology provides a commonly recognized framework in which the task of improving existing
processes can be carried out. No part of this method actually solves problems. Solutions result from
dedicated, skilled people working collaboratively. The method simply improves the ability of all to
understand and contribute.



                            Before You Begin …
  An important part of this methodology is transferring the knowledge gained to the standard by which
  the work is performed, thereby preserving the improvements that will be made. It is essential that a
  work standard or process exists in order that this be possible. If no such standard or process exists (a
  formal specification, a departmental policy, a standard operation procedure or a simple flowchart)
  consider approaching the problem using the Process Creation Method.



The intent of this section is to provide a step-by-step guide for using the problem solving method. The
purpose of each step is as follows:
Step 1: Select the Objective
In this step, the general area of the problem is explored, an objective is selected and a clear statement of
the desired outcome of the problem solving effort is created. In addition, a schedule for the work is
estimated.
Step 2: Data Collection and Analysis
In this step, data about the selected objective is gathered from a wide range of different viewpoints.
Through analysis of the data, the most significant factors of the problem are identified.
Step 3: Causal Analysis
In this step, many data based theories of probable causes are explored, leading to a root cause
conclusion.
Step 4: Solution Planning and Implementation
In this step, different approaches to correcting the root cause are developed and the team decides on
which will be the most effective.
Step 5: Evaluation of Effects
In this step, the effectiveness of the solution is evaluated by comparing the performance of the improved
process to the original data.
Step 6: Update the Standard
In this step, the documentation of the existing process is updated to reflect the improvements.
Step 7: Reflection
A part of all TQM methods, the use of the tool is evaluated for strengths and weaknesses in this final
step.

Although depicted as a logical, orderly sequence of steps, in practice this method is often highly iterative.
Frequently, information gained during the Data Collection and Analysis step can cause refinements to
statements of objectives. Observations made during Evaluation of Effects can cause the solution to be
modified. This reiteration of the steps is a normal, expected part of the method.




Remember …
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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                Page 1
Before embarking on the 7-Step Problem Solving process, be certain that a process exists. Determine
that the workflow is documented in some manner. The document could be a formal specification, a step
by step instruction sheet or a simple flowchart.
If a documented process does not exist, do not take a shortcut. Use the Process Creation Method to
address the problem.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                        Page 2
STEP 1: Select the Objective
Purpose:
In this step, the general problem area is explored, an objective is selected, a schedule for the work is
estimated and a clear statement of the desired outcome of the project is created.

Guidelines:
Explore the problem area
What is the expected result of the process?
Is the process documented in some way?
Is the process owner part of the problem solving group?
Is the result not meeting the expectation of the process?
Is the problem with a secondary measure of the process?
Is a new measure of the process indicating a problem not considered before?
Discuss examples which describe problems with the process.
Problem statements should be weakness oriented and address either defects,
          waste, mistakes or delays in the process.
List the problems identified.
        Example:
        The production output of the process is erratic. (delays)
        Some production lots have been scrapped. (waste)
        Some production lots are processed incorrectly. (mistakes)
        Some production lots do not pass inspection. (defects)
Select the objective
Use a multi-dimensional matrix to evaluate various aspects of the problems identified and choose the
best problem to work on. Use available data which might be helpful.


                                                                          availability
                                                secondary
                                   Impact on



                                                Impact on




                                                             to resolve




                                                                                         Expertise
                                                                                          on team
                                    process




                                                  metric
                                     result




                                                                            Data
                                                               Time




             Problem #1
             Problem #2
             Problem #3
             List all problems identified
Criteria such as impact, time to resolve, internal/external resource requirements and data availability
should be considered. A simple point system (Hi = 5, Medium = 3, Low = 1) can be used to prioritize the
problems identified. Problems which most directly impact the process result measurements should be
given the highest weighting. If the objective has been selected by others (such as a supervisor), its priority
should still be confirmed by those involved in the problem solving work.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                        Page 3
Estimate a schedule for the work
There should be a high probability of success within a reasonable length of time. Those involved in the
problem solving work should agree with sponsors on a task scope which maintains a three to six month
time frame. This may mean that the problem must be approached as a number of smaller objectives.

                        Factors Affecting Length of Time Required
          Problem Solving Time                 3 months       6 months        9 months
             Cycle time of process           < 1 week         1-4 weeks       > 4 weeks
             Defects per cycle                  > 20               10-20         <10
             Process Documentation Formal spec                Dept SOP         Informal
             Data Collection                  Automated            Mixed        Manual
             Data Availability                 On Team             Mixed       External

Those involved in the problem solving project should make a reasonable estimate of how the overall time
will be divided among the seven steps of the method, creating an approximate schedule for the work.

State the objective of the problem solving effort
The objective should be stated in one clear sentence and
       be a description of the desired result.
The objective should address defects, delays, waste or mistakes.
The objective should be weakness oriented.
        Example: Reduce scrap rate in the box forming process.
The objective should be measurable.
The objective should be quantified.
        Example: Reduce scrap rate in the box forming process from 15% to 5%.
The objective should include the agreed approximate schedule of the work.
        Example: Reduce scrap rate in the box forming process
              from 15% to 5% by August of 1997.




Audit Questions for Step 1:
Was the existence of a documented process confirmed?
Is the objective clear?
Is the objective measurable?
Is the objective achievable in a three to six month period?
Does the team agree on the chosen objective?
Is the process owner part of the problem solving group?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                           Page 4
STEP 2: Data Collection and Analysis
Purpose:
In this step, data related to the selected objective is gathered and analyzed to discover the most
important factors of the problem.

Guidelines:
Develop a checksheet
Determine what data will be collected.
Consider 4W1H (What, When, Why, Where and How).
        Example:
        Objective: ‘Reduce the scrap rate in the box forming process
                from 15% to 10% by August 1997’.
        What products or parts are scrapped?
        When does the scrap occur (shift, time, day?)?
        Why does the scrap occur?
        Where does the scrap occur (which machines, operations, rooms)?
        How does the scrap occur (describe the actual event)?
Consider 4M’s (Manpower, Materials, Methods, Machines)
        Example:
        Objective: ‘Reduce the scrap rate in the box forming process
                from 15% to 10% by August 1997’.
        Which scrapping is related to mistakes? (Manpower)
        Which scrapping is related to defective materials?
        Which scrapping is related to ineffective procedures?
        Which scrapping is related to malfunctioning or incapable machines?
Design a check sheet to capture data in each category. It may take several iterations of the check sheet
and training of the data collectors before the data is dependable.

Collect the data
Go to the site of the problem, collect your own data first hand.
Modify the data collection scheme as appropriate.
Do not rely on existing or historical data
Collect only a limited amount of data (2-3 weeks of defects).
Collect the data.
If others are gathering the data, spot check its validity.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                               Page 5
Organize and Stratify the data
Stratify the data in as many ways as possible. Examine the relationship between the number of defects
and each of the variables for which data has been gathered. Construct pareto charts to help visualize the
relationships.
      16                               100
                                                           100
                                       90
      14
                              25                     25    90                      100
                                       80
      12                                                   80                      90                  100

                              20       70                                   200
                                                     20    70                      80                  90
      10
                                       60                  60                                          80
                                                                                   70
                              15
       8                               50            15    50                      60                  70
                                                                            150
                                       40                  40                      50                  60
       6                      10
                                                     10    30                      40                  50
                                       30
       4                                                                    100
                               5                           20                      30
                                       20                                                              40
                                                      5    10                      20
       2                                                                                               30
                                       10
                               0                           0                 50    10
                                                                                                       20
       0                               0
                                                      0                            0
                                                                                                       10

                                                                              0                        0
 Conclusion: Manpowe
  Manpower              Conclusion: Materials are not signi
                                               Conclusion: Methods are not significant
                        Materials
                                                Methods              Conclusion: Focus on machines
                                                                        Machines
Stratify the data in as many ways as possible. Find a Pareto chart that is not as ‘flat’ as the others.
Highlight the top bar on this chart as a starting point for the next until the data has been exhausted.
                                   100
      140                                                       100
                                   90
                                     140
                                                                90                     100
      120                          80                     140
                                     120                                                               100
                                   70                           80            140 90
      100                                                                                              90
                                                          120 70
                                   60100                                               80
                                                                              120
       80                                                                                              80
                                   50                           60
                                        80                100                          70
                                                                50            100                      70
       60                          40
                                                                                       60
                                        60                 80 40                                       60
                                   30
       40                                                                         80
                                                                                       50
                                   20 40                        30                                     50
       20                                                  60                     60 40
                                   10                           20                                     40
                                        20
           0                       0                            10                     30              30
                                                           40                     40
                                           0                    0                      20              20
                                                           20                     20
                                                                                       10              10

                                                                                   0                   0
                                                            0                          0
 Conclusion: Focus on machi
  Machines                    Conclusion: Materials are not
                               Machine 27F &         Conclusion: Manpower is not
                                                       Machine 27F &       Conclusion: Focus on Product DD
                                 Materials
                                                         Manpower
Annotate each chart with the conclusion drawn by those involved. Highlight the bar that will be
investigated further.

Audit Questions for Step 2:
Did you collect your own data?
Was the data thoroughly stratified?
Were multiple Pareto charts used to analyze the stratified data?
Does the data analysis support the stated objective?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                 Page 6
STEP 3: Causal Analysis
Purpose:
In this step, the dominant contributor to the problem is analyzed to identify the root cause.

Guidelines:
Use brainstorming techniques
Involve others who are close to the process.
Do not reject any suggestions.
Do not assume that the cause is known.
Compare observed results to the intended performance of the process.
What has changed since the process was created?
Are the process monitors indicating an out of control condition?
Are process monitors in places that should prevent the problem?

Use a ‘fishbone’ diagram
Also called a ‘cause and effect’ or ‘Ishikawa’ diagram, use this method to structure the
        brainstorming discussion across many perspectives of the problem.
Use the highlighted bar of the Pareto chart as the focal point
        of the diagram and discussion.
Theorize what could cause the problem, ask ‘Why is this happening?’
Theorize from many perspectives and record the suggestions on the diagram.

                                                  Method                                        Manpower


                           Procedures inadequate                           Operators inexperienced                                                                         100
                                                                                                                                                                 140
                               for new product                                 with product DD
                                                                                                                                                                           90
                                                                                                                                                                 120
                                                                                                                                                                           80
                           Operations frequently interupted                    Instruction for new products
                                                                                                                             Operators not referring
                                                                                   poorly communicated                                                           100       70
                                                                                                                                to specifications
                                 Not enough space to organize work                      Operators are overconfident                                                        60
                                                                                                                                                                  80
                                                                                                                                                  Why does                 50
                                                              Cause
                                                      Production at capacity                                                                    machine 27F
                                                                                                                                                                  60       40
                                                            of facility                                                                          have a high
                                                                                                                                                defect rate on             30
                                                                                                                                                                  40
                       Product requirements                                                           Material is the same                       product DD?
                                                                                                                                                                           20
                    exceed machine 27 capability                                                        for all products
                                                                                                                                                                  20
                                                                                                                                                                           10
                  Machine 27 difficult to align                                            Material not adequate
                                                                                              for Product DD                                                       0       0
              Machine 27 not calibrated

Calibration frequency inadequate
          for Product DD


                                                  Machine                                              Material




When a reason is theorized, ask why again and again to understand the more basic or ‘root’ causes. This
repetitive questioning will help to identify root causes.
                   Example:
                   Why does machine 27 have a high defect rate on product DD?
                           The product requirements exceed the capability of the machine.
                   Why do the requirements exceed the capability?
                           The product is difficult to line up.
                   Why is the product difficult to line up?
                           The machine settings move after the product is lined up.
                   Why do the machine settings move?
                           The machine loosens between calibrations.

Several fishbone diagrams may be necessary to explore the problem completely. When the discussion
and diagrams are complete, those involved should decide on the areas of focus.
Document a conclusion statement, adding this to the fishbone diagram.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                                                                                          Page 7
                                                             Method                                        Manpower


                                      Procedures inadequate                           Operators inexperienced
                                          for new product                                 with product DD


                                      Operations frequently interupted                    Instruction for new products
                                                                                                                                        Operators not referring
                                                                                              poorly communicated
                                                                                                                                           to specifications
                                            Not enough space to organize work                      Operators are overconfident
                                                                                                                                                             Why does
                                                                         Cause
                                                                 Production at capacity                                                                    machine 27F
                                                                       of facility                                                                          have a high
                                                                                                                                                           defect rate on
                                  Product requirements                                                           Material is the same                       product DD?
                               exceed machine 27 capability                                                        for all products

                             Machine 27 difficult to align                                            Material not adequate
                                                                                                         for Product DD
                         Machine 27 not calibrated

           Calibration frequency inadequate
                     for Product DD


                                                             Machine                                              Material




                                              Conclusion: Focus on machine 27 calibration cycle

Use the process flowchart
If the process documentation includes a flowchart,
         it can be used as an aid to discover potential problem causes.
As with the fishbone diagram, the process flowchart can be used to structure
         the brainstorming session by organizing theories around each step.

Base decisions on facts
Verify the identified root cause with data.
Collect more data if necessary to confirm the conclusion.
Confirm the cause and effect relationship of the conclusion.
Confirm that the root cause identified is controllable.




Audit Questions for Step 3:
Was a conclusion statement documented?
Was a fishbone diagram constructed?
Were those familiar with the process involved?
Did the team agree on the root cause?
Was a conclusion statement put on the fishbone or flow diagram?
Do the root causes support the objective statement and the data analysis?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                                                                                               Page 8
Step 4: Solution Planning & Implementation
Purpose:
In this step, different approaches to correcting the root cause are developed and those involved choose
the most effective.

Guidelines:
Develop solutions that prevent reoccurrence of the root cause.
Use brainstorming techniques.
Focus solutions directly on the root cause.
Consider adding process monitors and Out of Control Action procedures.
Consider side effects of proposed solutions on the process.
Develop solutions for side effects.
Consider side effects of proposed solutions outside the process.
        Raw material? Inventory? Suppliers? Other processes?
Do not reject any solution proposals.

Choose a solution
Use a multi-dimensional matrix to evaluate various aspects of the solutions identified and choose the
best solution to implement.




                                                                           implement



                                                                                       implement
                                                             Feasibility
                                  Impact on



                                              Impact on
                                   problem




                                                                            Time to
                                               process
                                                metrics




                                                                                        Cost to
             Solution #1
             Solution #2
             Solution #3
             List all solutions proposed
Criteria such as impact, time to implement, resource availability and cost should be considered. A simple
point system (Hi = 5, Medium = 3, Low = 1) can be used to prioritize the problems identified. Solutions
which most directly impact the process result measurements should be given the highest weighting.
Document the chosen solution.



Create an implementation plan
List the tasks required to implement the solution.
Create a milestone plan to implement the chosen solution.
Use a multidimensional matrix to document the
         Who, What, When, Where and How questions for each milestone
Identify resource requirements.
Consider dividing the milestones among those involved in the improvement project.
Consider a Gantt chart or even a flow chart for each major milestone.
Involve those who will execute the revised process.
Develop a timeline for solution implementation.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                                      Page 9
Audit Questions for Step 4:
Was a solution chosen?
Can the solution be implemented within the timeframe of the objective statement?
Does the solution have any negative side effects?
Is the solution documented?
Was a solution implementation plan created?
Does the implementation plan include a schedule?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                      Page 10
STEP 5: Evaluation of Effects
Purpose:
In this step, new data is collected to evaluate the effect of the proposed solution on the process.

Guidelines:
Collect data
Use the same method previously used in the data collection and analysis step.
Confirm the results with the process owner and others if possible.
The amount of data, sample size or period should be similar to that which
        was used in the Data Collection and Analysis step.
As before, if others are collecting the data, spot check its validity.

Analyze and present the results
Use the same analytical method previously used in
        the Data Collection and Analysis step.
List changes which were not part of the project but which may have
        occurred during the project period and have an influence on the data.
        Example:
        The process was moved from building 7 to building 4 during the period.
        The physical layout of equipment was not repeated exactly.
        Two machines used in the process have been replaced with
               higher speed models.
Confirm that the solution has had the expected effect.
Compare the before and after data using pareto charts.


                                                  100                                         100
                      140
                                                  90              50                          90
                      120                         80                                          80

                                                  70              40                          70
                      100
                                                  60                                          60
                       80                                         30
                                                  50                                          50
                       60                         40                                          40
                                                                  20
                                                  30                                          30
                       40
                                                  20              10                          20
                       20
                                                  10                                          10

                        0                         0                0                          0




                                  Before                                      After




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                               Page 11
Identify and list observed, unplanned effects both positive and negative.
Identify possible interactions between the proposed solution and the process.
Determine other, less tangible side effects of the improvement project.
        Example:
        The operators who worked on the project have a higher sense
        of ownership of the process.
Where appropriate, determine other effects the work may have had such as improved on time delivery,
shortened cycle time, cost savings or cost avoidance.


Audit Questions for Step 5:
Was the solution successful in addressing the identified weakness to the desired level stated in the
objective statement?
Either modify the objective statement, or select and implement another solution.




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                             Page 12
STEP 6: Update the Standard
Purpose:
In this step, the process documentation is revised to reflect the improvements.

Guidelines:
Document the process change.
Identify the process documentation to be revised.
Identify the changes to be made to the documents.
Determine who will be responsible to revise the documents.
Document a schedule for completing the revisions to the documents.
Revise existing documents as required.

Inform and train those affected by the process change.
Determine a training plan that fits the situation. Use the 4W1H method:
       Who needs to know? Who will train?
       What do they need to know? Skill levels, prerequisites?
       When do they need to know it? What is the roll out schedule?
       Where will they learn it? Classroom, on the job, video conference?
       How will they be trained? Certification, testing, demonstration?
Make the process documents a central part of the training.


Audit Questions for Step 6:
Were all process documents updated?
Were all affected people informed and trained as necessary?
Will the process owner continue monitoring the process?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                     Page 13
STEP 7: Reflection
Purpose:
In this step, the lessons learned from the application of this TQM tool are reviewed and next steps, if any,
are considered.
Guidelines:
Discuss and document lessons learned
Did some things work particularly well?
Were there some things that could have gone better?
Does the team have a better understanding of the TQM method?
Is there any advice for others using this TQM tool?
Are there any improvements which could be made to the TQM reference materials?
Discuss and document next steps
Were any tasks left undone or incomplete?
Was the scope of the original project narrowed?
Are there other activities that could benefit from this work?
Are there some improvements which could be made?
What problem is now the most significant bar on the pareto chart?



Audit Questions for Step 7:
Have all the significant lessons learned been listed?
Have all of the next steps been identified?
Have other groups that could be affected by this project been notified?
Have revisions to the TQM reference materials been submitted?




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7-Step Problem Solving Method                                                              Page 14