How to use a proven method to fix your problems

Author
Paul Albone
Lean Manufacturing Expert | innovate2succeed
9th January 2018

We often spend time dealing with the same problems day in day out, so much so that they are now disguised as being a part of daily routine. 

It may be as simple as continually having to turn off the lights, close doors, look for the key, or giving out the same information to multiple people. It could also be hidden as “work”. Are your constantly fixing the same machine, throwing away defective products, correcting calculations, running your own spreadsheets, trying to find the right data file, answering someone else’s phone or cleaning up in the same place? 

At your next break, take five minutes to reflect on your week and ask yourself what are the things that keep interrupting your productivity? What are the problems you have to continually deal with?

There is an easy tool to help you find a solution to these problems. You may have heard of it as Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDAC). It seems very simple but the challenge is how to unlock its power.

How do you use it?

Plan – Define and confirm

This step is all about understanding. Define the problem you want to solve as simply and directly as possible and capture this is a clear and concise sentence. Why do you want to solve this? Is it important enough to fix?

For this, you have to go and see the problem in context. Look at the area, see the problem occurring or review the result of the problem. Talk to people in the area or those who have to deal with the issue. How do they see the problem and how it is caused? Is it even a problem to them, could it be a benefit? Could solving your issue actually hinder them?

You can then take your observations and feedback and review the definition of the problem.

The outcome of this will be a concise understanding of the problem along with the reasons why you are trying to solve it.

Do – Analyse and then do

This step is all about analysing to determine the root cause of the problem you wish to solve, and then fixing it. This way when it is dealt with it will never re-occur.

Go and get the data, find the facts and examine the evidence. This may mean you have to gather new information and enlist the help of others to help you generate the facts. This could look like: 

  • Keeping a record of exactly when the problem occurs
  • Setting aside defects for you to inspect
  • Taking photos
  • Making general observations and asking others more detailed questions to understand the problem further to get to the root cause
  • Observing the area and intervening when the problem occurs to fully understand what happened

Once you have all of this information, analyse it to get evidence for the root cause of the problem. There will often be multiple causes so make sure you consider every aspect.

When gathering data, it will only be natural to see the solution or maybe better ways of doing things. Unless the issue is of a safety, health or critical nature, try not to intervene immediately but continue to gather information such as what happens as a result of the issue? Is it ignored, how does it affect other processes etc?

This stage will be a band aid(s) to temporarily solve the problem. Often this will require others to change how they do things. 

An effective way of ensuring this is by walking them through the process so that they see the need to adjust ways of working and providing them with all the information/tools needed to implement the countermeasure.

Check – Try it out

This is observing the counter measure in action. Gather the same kind of data, facts and talk to the same people. Is the countermeasure working as intended? Has more information come to the surface and have other issues been raised as a result of what has been done?

The key question here is, is there evidence to show that the problem has been fixed? Is there consensus that it has been fixed?

Maybe you have solved several issues but not the root cause or maybe the situation is now worse. It can happen. If the situation is worse, here’s a key tip - do not feel bad, you had the courage to take action and get a result. Just undo what you have implemented and use the important data to change your approach.

Act – Fix, standardise and congratulate

If the consensus is that problem identified has been fixed then you can turn the countermeasure into a permanent fix. This is a step we are notoriously poor at.

Standardisation means that the solution(s) that have been implemented become the new way of working. For this to happen, behaviours need to change and this occurs by: 

  • Training: in the new way of working and why this is important
  • Practise & follow up: checking that the new way of working is being used
  • Documenting: the process and providing materials that will act as reminders and training materials

All change or meaningful solutions always involve the input of a group of people. Make sure that they are all thanked and understand how they helped improve their workplace. 

Use the data that has been gathered to define the size of the benefit. When scaled up to a year, this benefit is often surprisingly large.

Bear in mind that this process is based on evidence, not opinion, and in processes, logic, and data, rather than personalities and persuasion. 

The core of a “blame-free” learning culture is a team solving problems by going wherever the data takes them and implementing the best solution for the current operational environment. 

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