Daily Management & Problem Solving

Many of us are involved with corrective and preventive actions as required by ISO-9001. It is not unusual to see the following “story” in a corrective action:

* Problem – Customer received defective material.
* Root Cause – The test technician was new and was not adequately trained.
* Corrective action – Retrain the technician and evaluate the training effectiveness.

In world-class lean organizations, this is known as a level-1 corrective action where no in- depth root causes analysis was done on possible issues. In the example above it is quite possible that the entire training program and evaluation of effectiveness is problematic, not just the training received by the technician. A level-2 corrective action is where in-depth analysis is conducted but the solution did not include a poka-yoke or error proofing. Obviously a level-3 corrective action will include error proofing.

Individual incidents as indicated above are symptomatic of more widespread systemic issues. Understanding the root cause of systemic issue is a painstaking process and an investigator and the team will cross boundaries of many functions. It is very common that a systemic issue will have multiple root causes and each of them will require its own corrective actions. It is the responsibility of leaders of organizations to mentor the staff to ask more questions (“why did it happen?”) and made decisions based on facts. Those of you use 5-Why techniques know that asking “why?” about 5 times will get you to the root cause.

Let us walk through a typical scenario of missed on-time delivery at JR manufacturing .The firm was struggling to get 95%+ on-time delivery (OTD). During Lean Daily Management, OTD performance of each department was discussed and each incident of delivery miss was discussed during the meeting. The discussion and investigation that followed one particular delivery miss is very revealing and shows the effectiveness of the system.

Adriana the planner, “We had scheduled this item for last week, but production and testing was not completed in time.”
Daniel, the cell supervisor (who was listening, was prepared): “True. But we got P/N 342 just yesterday (Oct 17) and there was no way we will make and test that product in one day.”
“Ok, Bob the department manager said, “This must be a supplier issue. But let us find it after the meeting.”

After the daily meeting, Bob and the cell leaders visited the warehouse to check the data on material receipt. In fact, the material was received on the day it showed on the purchase order – the day before it was issued to the floor. So the supplier shipped it on time. Then, someone commented, “I bet we didn’t order it in time.”

“I don’t know,” Bob replied. They walked to the sales area and found that sales entered the order on Sept 18 and PO for P/N 342 was issued on Sept 21, very reasonable. The purchasing group is relieved that they didn’t make a mistake. Bob was sure there was something out there that he is not seeing yet. He went back to the planner Adriana asked her how the lead time for the finished product was determined. By this time there were emotions and “not me” attitude. By second day, Bob found Adriana used 5-day lead time for this raw material P/N 342 but the purchase order indicated 11 days lead time.

Continued investigations revealed that the supplier changed the lead time, informed purchasing (who then changed the lead time for material receipt). But no one challenged the increase of lead time from 5 days to 11 days and no one thought this will affect lead time of existing orders.

On third day, Bob wrote down the root cause of this issue:”1) Suppliers are allowed to change lead time with only approval from purchasing, and 2) No system in place to incorporate changes in supplier lead times to existing orders and to communicate it within the organization.”

That was for one item. But the fixes will make sure the same issue will not happen again.

Looks painful? Yes it is. Finding true, actionable root cause of problems takes patience, and continued asking of “why?” Once you find the issue, you address all possibilities of the same issue happening again.

John Shook, in his book, Managing to Learn, published by Lean Enterprise Institute, details why managers should not propose solutions to issues – they should teach their staff to ask the right questions, “peel the layers of the onion,” and to make the root cause visible to all. Once there is an agreement and buy-off on the root cause, that associate now has the authority to propose solutions to specifically address those root causes. Thus the process of Daily Management and Problem Solving is all about empowering shop level associates to make decisions based on facts and to make continuous improvement as a way of life.

Good implementation of problem solving in any organization is a vital component of waste reduction and continual improvement.

Written by Mathew Nadakal, our Senior Consultant and Lean Six Sigma Blackbelt. Contact Mathew for more information on Lean Daily Management, and Problem Solving development.

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