Defects are loaded with hidden costs; wasted material, rework and much more— including the potential for decreased customer satisfaction. Organizations that pursue continuous improvement and apply Lean principles understand that a key to decreasing defects and the related costs is having the skills needed to find and resolve the cause of these problems.
When we first started working with a global electronics company recently, we held a Problem Solving & Decision Making workshop for the production team, and worked with them to apply their new problem-solving skills to a real, work-related issue in order to reinforce the impact of using their skills back on the job.
During the workshop, the team learned and then applied a structured approach to problem solving using the ongoing problem of a recurring defect. On the final day of the program, they were charged with presenting the results of their analysis to the factory’s leadership group including their site manager and production manager.
The defect had persisted along with negative implications for production, supply chain and delivery dates.
In the past the production team had addressed this issue using familiar, ‘level one’ tools such as past experience, some common sense, the 5 Whys and Ishikawa. Yet the defect persisted along with negative implications for production, supply chain and delivery dates. The increased concerns, financial impact and the amount of rework gave priority for taking on this issue.
The defect involved a part that had eight small welding points. Occasionally two welding points were missing, always the third and fourth points in a row of eight and this only occurred in less than one percent of the pieces produced. During the workshop the team went through the structured problem-solving process stating the problemそして specifying what, where, when and the extent of the problem using the KT IS/IS NOT matrix to organize existing knowledge that could clarify identification of possible causes.
The application was done in a quiet, conducive meeting room, with the right people in the room, just next door to the plant, in case they needed to go ‘look-and-see’ as they worked through the problem specification. Everyone gave their ideas, using the shared problem-solving approach learned from KT.
The techniques of Problem Analysis include these activities:
- State the problem.
- Specify the problem.
- Develop possible causes from knowledge and experience or distinctions and changes.
- Test causes against the specification.
- Determine the most probable cause.
- Verify assumptions, observe, experiment, or try a fix and monitor.
The team identified the most probable cause before the end of the workshop.
By the final day of the workshop, the team was able to show their analysis, had identified three possible causes, had tested possible causes against the specification and had determined the most probable cause. Following the workshop, a team went on to verify the most probable cause, implement a fix and take preventive measures to ensure that the problem never occurs again.
The problem solved during training eliminated the various costs of a recurring defect while the participants learned and applied a set of new, problem-solving tools that not only used knowledge and experience but also identified and organized relevant data in a way that accelerated an effective resolution. The ability to apply structured, critical thinking to real-world, operational issues increased self-confidence and provided a level of control necessary for pursuing continuous improvement.