Problem Definition for Beginners

Back in 2006/7 I worked for Goodrich Aerospace as Group Continuous Improvement Manager, within my team I had a gentleman named Tim Holmes. Now Tim is one of those gentleman once met never forgotten, all for good reasons. His passion, intellect is second to none.

We had done a presentation on Standard Work to the Senior Leadership team and after the meeting Tim, Rob (Quality Manager) and myself got to talking. We knew Tim was a poet so we tasked him with creating a poem on Problem Definition something we could use in all of the conference rooms, training rooms, etc.

This was the result. Something I use regularly.

Problem Definition for Beginners

They say a well-defined problem is half way solved,
So if I want to fix an issue I get the right tool involved.
If I’ve got a problem that isn’t well defined
With lots of complex issues that keep racing round my mind
Or when there’s loads of data but I cannot find the proof
I know that there’s a solution there, but I just can’t see the truth.
Whenever I’m finding it difficult to focus my attention,
Or if I need help to understand and gain some comprehension,
I reach for a tool that’s simple to use and helps avoid contention
I break the problem into easy steps and ask myself 6 questions.
What precisely is it that’s wrong? is the first thing you should ask
I try to be exact here as it helps me in my task.
Where is the next one, as in where was it found?
This will help locate the issue and fix it to the ground.
Next up its When – as in what time of day,
I’ll also add the month & year to help me on my way.
Who is question number four, I need to know who found it?
Then I’ll know when I ‘go look see’ or need to talk around it.
The next question is five and the detail is Which? by way of demonstration
I’d like a specific requirement here, ideally a specification
Now finally I ask a How… to quantify the problem.
How many are wrong? Or even How was it found? And now I’m ready solve em.
This process will lend itself to any problem raised,
It will help us relieve that awful stress from out of our days.
‘Cause when you’ve got the all details, once your problems’ defined.
The picture should be much more clear, the solutions more easy to find;
Just work though the detail use logic… then pause,
For sooner or later you’ll find the root cause.
You see the answers to our troubles are never beyond our cognition,
They’re halfway over a little hill called Problem Definition

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Leadership Standard Work

Now most of us know and understand Standard Work, and hopefully when I say standard work your thinking of Process Capacity Tables (PCT), Standard Work Combination Tables (SWC), Standard Work Layout (SWL) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and NOT just standard operating procedures????.

As a refresher

  • PCT – illustrates the production capacity of each process involved in producing a part.
  • SWC – combines human movement and machines cycle times based on Takt time.
  • SWL – A cell which is able to meet changing Customer requirements, as identified by Takt Time, with any number of Team Members, whilst maintaining productivity, without the waste of waiting.
  • SOP – is the document that details the current best method of operation. It includes quality checks, safety checks and any other activities that are included in the standard operation.

Now standard work also applies to management! Known as Leadership Standard Work.

Not to be confused:

Standard Work = a tool used to provide consistency of outcome

Leadership Standard Work = provides a structure and routine

It follows these three keys to leadership

  • Go See – spend time on the frontlines, be it, manufacturing, service, health sector, finance, etc.
  • Ask Why – use the “Why technique daily”
  • Show Respect – Respect your people

Leadership standard work is about walking the frontlines, seeing the abnormal from normal conditions. What is the work that’s is being done? What is the process? Is it adhered to? Are the business results being achieved? What is the next improvement that has been identified?

Leadership Standard Work in the case of a Production Manager may involve

  • A daily plan
  • A workplace walk across all areas
  • A conversation with a person from each area
  • Checking that Senior Management walks are completed
  • Is the 5S to the agreed standard?
  • Are actions being closed out?
  • Etc.

As we go up the hierarchy the standard work may become weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
A Senior Manager or General Manager may do the following:

  • Weekly frontline walk to touch base with associates, supervisors in each area to understand how the plant is running.
  • Spend time in the problem solving meetings, asking why, coaching and mentoring
  • Checking all critical audits are complete?
  • Are standards being adhered to?
  • Etc.

Leadership Standard Work Audit

Frontline associates see things first and we want to let them know what to do and feel at ease in highlighting the abnormal from normal conditions.

Leadership Standard Work is based on walking the frontline, observing waste and abnormalities, asking questions and supporting the improvement process.

By embedding this practice, leaders can begin to create a culture that:

  • Solves problems quickly and permanently.
  • Drives continuous improvement.
  • Develops the next generation of leaders.
  • Make continual gains in performance.
  • Embeds the culture of team working.

My early appreciation and benefit of this practice was implementing it at Unipart early 2000’s. It was implemented throughout the structure, from Team Leader to Managing Director, an example of which is the image above, showing the leadership pyramid/timing and Senior Manager standard work. Due Diligence is key to this practice, not paying it lip service or tick in the box mentality.

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One of the Least used Tools – Standardised Work

Standardised Work is one of the most powerful but least used tools within business, yet it is one of the foundations to Lean Manufacturing

From my experience “without standards we do not have continuous improvement only chaos”.

The declarations I have heard, “we don’t make cars”, “You see, we are different”, “We’re unique….this isn’t an assembly line!

My response to such statements is “everyone works a process that process can either be destroying or creating value added for the customer, which would you rather it be. Whether you’re building cars or delivering life-saving patient care, it takes a sequence of highly coordinated tasks and processes to deliver the end result. When this sequence of tasks is standardised, you’re on your way to fundamentally improving and eliminating significant sources of waste.

Standardised work is the simple understanding that every task that can be repeated requires a written instruction of the most efficient and effective way to complete it to the highest quality Standard. We then use the selected standard work process each time the task is performed ensuring that the same results are achieved, in the same amount of time, regardless of who completes the task.

Now, we must understand here that the first step is to document what the current best practice is, this may be not be delivering the outcome you require currently, but without first understanding, how will you control any changes and what improvements have had what effect? We can’t, it would be guess work!

Key Elements of Standard Work

  • TAKT
  • Process Capacity Table
  • Work Combination Table
  • Work Layout
  • Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Work Documents

Takt Time – “Takt” is a German word which refers to the pace or beat of a musical composition, the metronome. The calculation of Takt time gives us the rate of production for meeting customer demand

Work sequence – “The time for an employee to do a prescribed task and return to his original stance.” – Taiichi Ohno
Standard inventory – In manufacturing this refers to parts, but in other sectors it can refer to applications, data inputs or other resources necessary to perform the job.

Bear in mind the following

Involve employees in the process – they are the ones who determine the best practice for each task. This also helps ensure engagement and ultimately adherence to the standard work.

Focus on the details – it must be in-depth to be useful in reducing variation. No detail should be omitted. Even the little nuances need to be understood, these are improvements that can be engineered out. (I can remember a process I worked with where the Associate had to lean on one part for the other part to fit, a stack up of tolerances had occurred. This knack had to be written in the standard work until we could engineer it out, imagine the amount of lost time/production if others weren’t aware of this)

Use visuals – Images, photographs, diagrams and examples will help bring your standard work definition to life and increase the likelihood of consistent compliance. A picture is worth a 1000 words.

Make it accessible – The documentation must be accessible at the time and place that the work is to be performed.

Innovate – While you don’t want employees deviating from the standard work process, there must be a method to give consideration to changes when new conditions or new ideas warrant revision. A governance process will increase the likelihood that changes will be analysed and approved rather than being implemented ad-hoc.


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Less Can be More in Report Writing – telling the Story Using an A3 Report.

Some contacts asking about A3 Problem Solving, I thought I would do a quick overview.

Problem solving is about thinking, but writing things down can help thinking as well.

Using the A3 process we can document key information and decisions each step of the way which can then be shared with others, to get input, and make modifications by using that input.

Why A3? Originally it was because much of the communication across Toyota (the various sites and nations) was by fax, and this was the largest size paper that could fit in a fax machine. (Amazing how some things materialise)

A3 Problem Solving Template

The key fundamental about A3 reports is not the format or the finesse with which you fill in the different sections which fancy drawings, charts etc. It’s the COMMUNICATION process. The A3 is fundamental to the process of problem solving and decision-making. It allows the most critical of information to be shared with your business or businesses for others to evaluate on the thought processes used and as a means for requesting support and advice, which in turn aligns everyone in the organisation on how the A3 will move forward.

The above image is a typical layout (not set in stone though, as previously mentioned the format is not the point), but it highlights the different stages and guidelines for completion.

For anyone interested contact me and I’ll send the guide and some examples in PowerPoint format. My personal opinion is use paper and pencil for a start.

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