Here’s how to use a step-by-step approach to solve recurring problems in your company’s operations.
Source: BDC 7 steps to solve your operational problems
Do you encounter the same problems cropping up over and over again in your business? Problems waste time and resources and fester into bigger headaches.
As renowned management consultant William Edwards Deming once said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”
Implementing a problem‑solving approach in your business can help you quickly zero in on the root causes of recurring operational issues and find solutions.
The problem‑solving approach can be broken down into seven steps.
1. Identify problems
Problems can show up as temporary setbacks, wasted efforts and/or interruptions in production. The first step is to be aware a problem exists and view it as an opportunity for improvement.
2. Describe the current situation
In order to fully understand a problem, you need to go to the source and find all the contributing factors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who? (Who is concerned or needs to be informed?)
- What? (What are the processes, products or parts in question?)
- When? (When did the problem occur?)
- Where? (Where did the problem occur?)
- Why? (What changed recently? Are there new participants?)
- How? (Does the problem happen constantly or only occasionally?)
3. Take temporary countermeasures on the spot
Don’t look for the perfect solution at the outset. First, put out the fire. For example, if you notice you are missing resources to finish an order, possible countermeasures could be to borrow material from another team, move on to another order or transfer employees to another order.
4. Find the root cause
Analyzing the fundamental causes of a problem is like pulling weeds. If you don’t pull up the roots, they’ll just grow back. Problems can be divided into either simple-to-normal difficulty or complex diffficulty.
For simple‑to‑normal problems, you can use the “five whys” approach—asking “why” at least five times to trace the problem back to its fundamental source.
For example, if protective strips are coming off a machine, you would ask the following:
Q. Why are the strips coming off?
A. There isn’t enough glue.
Q. Why isn’t there enough glue?
A. The gluing equipment wasn’t working well.
Q. Why wasn’t the gluing equipment working well?
A. The glue reservoir is blocked.
And so on for at least five whys. In this case, you might eventually trace the problems back to a new employee who hasn’t had enough training on maintaining the machine.
More complex problems can be analyzed systematically using what’s known as an Ishikawa diagram, a method of thoroughly evaluating a production process. This approach allows you to evaluate machines, labour, materials, methods and the physical and human environment.
You explore all possible root causes of a problem by asking questions in each of these areas. For example, with machines, you would ask questions such as: Does it meet production requirements? Is inspection adequate? Does it meet accuracy requirements? For each question, you answer yes or no and give supporting facts.
This focuses the team on causes and not symptoms.
5. Propose solutions
Now consider solutions that address the fundamental cause of the problem. Fully examine different options, taking into account how other teams will be affected. Come to a consensus on the best solution. Plan alternatives in case the first solution doesn’t work.
6. Establish an action plan
Develop an action plan to implement your solution. Allocate sufficient resources and establish a timeline. Monitor progress and standardize the solution so you can apply it across your business.
7. Check results
Collect data to evaluate your results. Consider measuring your progress with performance indicators, benchmarking against your initial situation and/or any applicable standards. Evaluate gaps between actual and anticipated results; keep team members informed; and adjust your plan as necessary.