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Problem Solving Model

I suspect many of you are familiar with several if not many tools available for solving problems and remediating defects (from Lean, Six Sigma and TQM).  Statisical Process Analysis, 5 Why's, Fisbone / Pareto charts, and RCA come readily to mind. The ISO 9000 component  on Preventative and Corrective Action offers another, complimentary tool for problem solving.

The value of having a wide range of tools and methods to tackle defects and solve problems becomes clearer when we realise that in the real, customer driven and competive markets of today, the nature of problems and defects are moving targets.  Don't fall for the common trap of setting your company's problem management processes in concrete.

Just like the infamous super-bug, defects will arise and "mutate" even when products and services are locked down, quality controls are optimised, changes are frozen, and all the process behavoiur charts and customer surveys are looking quite healthy.  We know this to be related to the changing environment and conditions that influence our customers and their changing demands for one, and also an element of "deterioration" of the quality of our products and services (something akin to the loss of immunity in the superbug analogy).  I won't elaborate any more on some of the insidious causes of quality deteriation over time, when we all believed we had an aggressive, robust quality management system.  However, I did list some typical "bugs" in my article on  Pareto Power  a while back.

Many years ago (during my ISO9001 internal auditor days), I purchased  very a helpful pocket-sized handbook called The Memory Jogger 9000.  Whilst the version of the standards may have changed (thrice I believe since 1996), the essential substance is still very valid.  An updated version is still available, and in this article I want to introduce the Problem-Solving model presented under Preventative and Corrective Action.  [Before the ISO9000 purists jump on me, yes I know that Corrective Action and Preventative Action have moved under separate sections in ISO9001:2008].

Basically, the Problem-Solving model provides a progressive thought (brain-storming) and action process through four stages of problem identification, analysis and resolution:

  1. Sympton Analysis
  2. Root Cause Analysis
  3. Preventative and Corrective Action
  4. Hold the Gains (or Hold the Fort)

Each stage has 3 steps as listed in the following table.

  Problem Solving Stage Problem Solving Steps and Actions

(Click to view)

Sympton Analysis

01.  Identify what the problem is and is not
02.  Identify where the problem occurs and where it does not occur
03.  Identify when the problem occure and when it does not occur

Root Cause Analysis

04.  Identify and sellect potential causes
05.  Establish measurements and tests
06.  Conduct tests and verify or eliminate potential causes

Preventative & Corrective Action

07.  Identify alternative preventive and corrective action
08.  Evaluate and select appropriate actions using defined criteria
09.  Plan and implement remedial action

Hold the Gains

10.  Identify appropriate control means
11.  Implement appropriate control methods
12.  Monitor, report and follow up

The beauty of this approach is that additional tools and methods can (and should) be utilised in problem solving sessions, following this progression.

For high impact and/or complex problems and persitant defects, a problem solving team is always recommened (senior or lead technical support staff, problem management facilitator, and possibly a quality analyst if the staff species still exists in your organisation). At the end of the day, the methods, meetings, findings, actions, owners, outcomes and status updates need to be well documented (preferably in a purpose-built tool) and tracked as a quality record . Executive summary reports made available (preferably dynamically) for the regular Management Review meetings (section 5.6 of the latest ISO9001 standards).


[References:  "The Memory Jogger 9000", by Robert W. Peach and Associates, and Diane S. Ritter 1996 (GOAL/PC) ]

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