8 Stages of Effective Problem-Solving
It’s one thing to identify a problem; it’s another thing entirely to solve it. Problems are diverse in cause and nature, and they require solutions that are just as unique. Getting there takes a methodical approach — one manufacturing maintenance teams should know well. Whether you follow a problem-solving process (PSP) or plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, it takes a concerted effort to go from problem to solution.
Looking for a methodical way to approach problem-solving that results in meaningful, lasting results? Incorporate these eight stages of effective problem-solving into your approach to kickstart an iterative process of improvement in your maintenance and repair operations.
- Define the problem. Before solving a problem, you need to understand exactly what the problem is. This means determining when the problem started and how long it has persisted as well as what its baseline characteristics are. Define the problem broadly first; then narrow it down to be as specific as possible. For example, “Machine vibration caused by a faulty motor mount.”
- Clarify the problem. Determine how important it is to solve this problem immediately. What level of urgency is present? Also, decide if any additional information or resources are needed to solve it. Do you have the skills in-house to address the problem in its entirety, or do you need to call on outside resources to ensure you have the right solution? Begin to formulate your approach at this stage.
- Define the goals. Once you’ve properly defined and clarified the problem, identify the results you hope to achieve. Is it a simple fix to restore baseline operations? Are you working to improve operations? Are there peripheral problems to address? Identify and qualify every goal (i.e., every intended outcome) for the project.
- Identify the root cause. You can’t solve and prevent problems without understanding their contributors. Get to the bottom of the issue through a root cause analysis. Your problem may have resulted from a single cause or several different ones. Determining the root cause will make it much easier to collect the data needed to resolve the problem.
- Develop an action plan. Once you have an idea about the root cause, it’s time to devise a plan of action. This might include delegating work to team members, laying out a timeline, and more. Be sure to write down all the steps you and your team need to complete in order to solve the problem. This is your working flow chart: a roadmap to resolve the problem.
- Execute corrective action. Put your plan into action. Follow the action plan to ensure an incremental, measured approach to problem resolution. This means working the corrective action plan from beginning to end — including disassembly, component replacement, reassembly, testing, and verification. Don’t skip steps!
- Evaluate the results. This is the moment of truth. Check all the information you’ve collected and determine if you’ve met your goals. Also, make note of any issues you experienced while trying to solve the problem. Problems often beget more problems, and it’s important to qualify peripheral issues while you address the core problem.
- Pursue continuous improvement. Do your best to prevent the problem from recurring. Look back on all the steps you’ve taken and see if there’s room for improvement. Identify opportunities to attack the root cause and keep the problem from reemerging.
This framework is highly adaptive to any problem-solving situation because it covers every important facet of problem identification, exploration, correction, and improvement. And while there are different ways to approach each step depending on the problem, these eight stages offer very real results in any setting. Make them part of your maintenance repair and operations (MRO) approach and reap the benefits that come from an end-to-end problem-solving process.