“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”– John Foster Dulles

In theautomotive quality management space, problem solving continues to be a big problem in the supply chain. Many automakers and their suppliers have indicated they don’t have confidence in problem solving throughout the supply chain, according toAutomotive Industry Action Group (AIAG)’s presentation at the ASQ World Quality Conference. Given by Dan Reid of AIAG, this session helped us to understand these issues a bit more thoroughly-specifically, why is problem solving such a "problem?" Reasons include:

  • The problem tends to be described incorrectly;
  • There may be a lack of or insufficient structure in the problem solving process;
  • A lack of urgency;
  • Management impatience;
  • A lack of follow-through to prevent the problem from recurring;
  • The problem solving effort has been “expedited” by skipping process steps; or
  • Poor execution of or ineffective corrective actions.

    The Future of Quality

  • How does effective problem solving tie in to quality management? In taking a step back, automakers face many challenges imposed by global competition, government mandates and consumer demands. Finding the best balance of materials and technologies to meet these sometimes conflicting demands requires agility and new approaches to design and manufacturing productivity . To help meet these challenges, those in the automotive industry will increasingly need to emphasize integrative systems approaches, critical thinking, and problem solving. We all know about the basic seven tools of quality , among them: Fishbone diagrams; pareto analysis; histograms; and control charts. Kaoru Ishikawa stated that “95% of quality related problems can be solved with seven fundamental quantitative tools," and with regular training and implementation of these tools, that statistic is a real possibility.

    Form a Team
    Another way of approaching a problem is to form a team to determine the best means by which to tackle it. You'll need a champion with the executive authority to act, the problem owner who is the natural owner of the process, an independent facilitator with no equity in income that leads discussions, and other Subject Matter Experts (SME's) that can include engineers, suppliers, or even your customers.

    Conduct an Internal Investigation
     Your team should conduct an investigation in order to gather and analyze evidence to determine if the problem is an internal or external source. If external, evidence and a problem statement should promptly be sent to the supplier either manually or within your supplier management system . . Keep your internal investigation open pending the confirmation from supplier. If applicable, the supplier’s corrective action can be used to close the investigation. If the supplier fault cannot be verified, investigation should remain internal. To tie this back into our customers, they see warranty management as a big problem in the automotive industry: and suppliers often get blamed for the problems.

    Sample Problem Solving Process
     1) Identify the Problem. Visit the GEMBA, develop process flow diagram, review lessons learned, develop a problem description with facts and evidence, distinguish between the symptom and the problem. A problem symptom is a manifestation of the problem, while the problem is the specific issue that is causing the effect on the product and / or customer. Once you've gone through these processes, write a problem statement. It may be helpful to employ the 5 Why's and 2 How's at this time.

    2) Contain the problem. Immediate actions should be taken to prevent further problem effects. This includes data collection and analysis, define and verify effectiveness of actions. Containment should be extraordinary, visible and temporary-remember, this process should not stop at containment!

    3) Identify root cause(s) FMEA , use effective tools to gather data, analyze and determine the root cause of the problem.

    Predict, prevent and protect by asking the following questions: Systemic root cause: Why did the planning process not predict it? Occurrence root cause: Why did the manufacturing process not prevent it? Escape root cause: Why did the quality process not protect us?

    4) Develop and verify a solution. The more challenging the problem, the more demand for an in-depth analysis and synthesis of ideas into concepts that deliver value.

    The key to effective problem solving comes down to becoming more innovative. That is, including psychological factors, valuing idealistic thinking, becoming more resourceful, recognizing complex challenges, separating to solve, dynamic system modeling, evolving to solve are all valuable practices that can help you to solve future problems.

    It's a common idea to flex your hindsight (experience of the past), and foresight (the ability to imagine what might be) muscles at this time. But innovation is not about learning from the past or guessing - you need to create breakthroughs utilizing your outsight, which is your ability to stretch your mind beyond the bounds of your experience to borrow new ideas from different places.

    5) Implement corrective action. In order to prevent recurrence, develop an action plan with responsibility and timing assigned. Implement permanent corrective actions, validate that these actions address the problem, remove containment after validation.

    6) Implement preventive action. Prevent occurance by deploying your solution.

    Quality professionals today must commit to strengthening their customer intelligence, improve their company's operational excellence, and speed to market to build the next generation of customer advocates. You can succeed with better use of established, available tools and techniques. Globalization requires quality professionals to think in a more innovative and collaborative way-it’s not about the tools that you have at your disposal, it’s the implementation.

    Bottom Line: We are all problem solvers, the challenge is how to create a quality culture where leaders take responsibility for quality.

    Source: "Keys for Effective Problem Solving", Dan Reid from AIAG Session