Albert Einstein once wrote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Simply put, coming up with creative and innovative solutions to problems oftentimes requires you to look at the problem with a fresh perspective. As we’ve discussed in previous Toyota Lean Management blog posts, recognizing and cutting down on waste is critical to increasing your efficiency, reducing costs, and improving throughput. However, in order to make these improvements and see positive changes in ROI, a key step is recognizing where problems exist and working to solve them.
To recognize and solve these problems, it is often helpful to view them with a different lens to reach a newfound conclusion. Toyota’s 8 steps for problem-solving act as the lens that allows you to view different aspects of your operation from a new perspective.
Consider these eight steps as you start on the path to continuous improvement.
1. Clarify the problem
The first step in solving a problem is realizing that one exists. You can define a problem by asking yourself the following questions:
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you know you have a problem that could use some improvement.
2. Break down the problem
Now that you’ve verified the problem, you can begin to break down the issue into smaller, more detailed pieces. It can be helpful to analyze the different inputs and outputs of your process so you can effectively see where you are currently placing your efforts. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It is much easier to manage and solve smaller problems rather than attack one large problem with little direction.
3. Set a target
The third step is all about commitment and consistency. Now that you’ve broken down the problem, how are you going to go about solving it? How are you going to meet your new deadline, and how long will it take to complete? Allot adequate time for each activity to ensure you are giving each aspect of the project enough attention.
4. Analyze the root cause
Analyzing the root cause allows you to identify each of the factor(s) that caused a problem in the first place. Sometimes there is more than one cause, and it is important to consider each one as you work to address the issue.
5. Develop countermeasures
Establishing the root cause is only half the battle. Now, you must develop countermeasures for each of those root causes to prevent the same issues from occurring again.
6. Implement countermeasures
Now that you’ve established your countermeasures, it is time to put them into action. You may want to seek ideas from other team members to ensure you are not missing any steps. Also, it can be helpful to track how effective each countermeasure is performing along the way and making adjustments where necessary.
7. Evaluate Results and Process
The seventh step is all about implementing a system to review and evaluate how your new process is working. Countermeasures will fail, but it is important to develop an effective system that always looks for areas of improvement in order to reach the desired result.
8. Standardize Successful Processes
After receiving successful results from your previous evaluation, it is time to standardize the process within your team and the entire organization. As you work through the standardization process, continue to look for possible unresolved issues that you may have missed the first time.
Remember, the road to establishing a lean organization doesn’t stop once you improve a few processes. Lean isn’t just about identifying where you can do better; it’s about instilling a culture of respect and developing to create a workplace that your associates enjoy working in. Achieving business goals and leaner processes requires dedication and teamwork from every individual in the organization. Encourage open communication and empower your employees to bring problems to your attention when they are detected.