Tag Archives: improvement tools

Tools for Solving Problems

puzzle

Persistent problems cannot be solved by repeatedly using the same knowledge and insights. Or, as Albert Einstein phrased it, we can’t solve the problems at the same level of thinking with which we created them!

Few decisions have a greater impact on the likelihood of success of an improvement project than the definition of the problem.

Stephen Covey says that the way we see the problem is the
problem
.

Dr. Don Wetmore of the Productivity Institute says that a problem well defined is at least 50% solved!

However you choose to look at it, the way we define and communicate the problem the team is expected to solve will greatly influence the speed and efficiency with which a team will complete its work, the
degree of satisfaction between the team and the project sponsor, and the efficacy with which an organization prioritizes and sequences the problems to devote resources to.

So the first key step to problem solving is to define the problem. Four key best practices for doing so are:

  1. Write it down and share it
  2. Quantify the waste it is causing
  3. Be specific about the metric you are using to size the problem
  4. Avoid judgments or opinions about root causes

Once a problem is well defined, it is often best to use classic problem-solving tools to examine current reality from a variety of different angles. This will most often require the use of multiple tools to reveal more advanced insights and solutions, as in many cases no one tool will provide all the answers. These tools can include:

  • Pareto Charts to explore ideas about possible causes
  • Process Mapping to spot and quantify the waste and trace it to the primary cause
  • Cause and Effect Diagramming to stretch beyond initial ideas about possible root causes
  • Histograms to provide new insights into the dynamics of process performance
  • Run Charts to understand current process performance and distinguish between random variation and special causes
  • Scatter Diagrams to clarify the importance of possible causal factors on results measurements
  • Affinity Diagrams to find breakthrough ideas and natural relationships among the data
  • Priority Matrices to consider alternatives and identify the right things to work on
  • Interrelationship Digraphs to visually demonstrate the relationship among factors—causal factors (drivers) vs. symptoms

All About Flow Charts

Sample Flow Chart

A simple yet extremely useful improvement tool, a flowchart is a type of diagram that represents a workflow or process. As a graphic depiction or visual map, a flowchart can represent a process with greater clarity than text descriptions alone, thus enabling people to more easily view and follow the “steps.” Consequently, they are very useful when communicating with users or managers about policies, rules, and unnecessary, duplicitous or cumbersome steps within a work process, and help to quickly highlight problems or opportunities for improvement.

When creating a flowchart, process steps are shown as shapes of various kinds, and their order by connecting the shapes with arrows or lines. Different shapes are used to indicate actions, decision points, recycle loops, work and wait times.

Among the most commonly-used shapes are the following:

Common Flow Chart Symbols

Originally, flowcharts were created by hand using pencil and paper. Before the advent of the personal computer, drawing templates made of plastic flowchart shape outlines helped flowchart makers work more quickly and gave their diagrams a more consistent look. Today’s flowcharts are typically created using software.