Is there a disciplined method that allows companies to solve problems? In times of crisis, companies face the challenge of analyzing and solving problems efficiently in a short time to save developed projects. Problem-solving techniques such as the TRIZ method and Hurson’s Production Thinking Model tend to provide a tool for companies to overcome crises and solve problems using less effort and time.
In 1987, Ford Motor Company published their manual, Team Oriented Problem Solving (TOPS), that includes their 8 Disciplines problem solving process. The process was initially used to deal with quality control and safety issues inside the company, but later expanded its role to a team approach problem solving method. The 8D process is employed by engineers and designers to identify, analyze, and correct problems through eliminating the main source that caused the problem.
The 8D problem solving process includes 8 Disciplines and, in the mid-90s, a D0 step for planning was added to the process. The 8D steps include the following:
- D0: Plan
- D1: Team formation
- D2: Describe the problem
- D3: Develop a temporary containment plan
- D4: Determine and verify root causes
- D5: Verify permanent solution
- D6: Implement the permanent solution
- D7: Prevent recurrence
- D8: Congratulate your team
The 8 Disciplines aim to achieve the following targets while solving the specified problem:
- Think as a team while solving the problem
- Isolate the problem and understand its causes
- Identify the factors that contribute to the problem
- Provide a temporary solution to halt the impact of the problem
- Eliminate the causes of the problem and the factors contributing to it
- Prevent the problem from recurring
When to use 8D Problem Solving
Based on the above targets, the 8D problem solving process is designed for complex problems whose solution exceeds the ability of one expert. Also, it aims to establish communication for problem resolution through different levels inside the company. In some situations, the consumer or the management team requests the application of the 8D process through a number of forms or documentations.
While 8D problem solving is suitable for recurring problems that may occur repeatedly within a project or company, it is not suitable for simple problems that can be solved quickly by individual efforts. The process is not suitable for a problem whose causes are already known or can be solved with direct solutions. The 8D process is designed for complex problems, which require several weeks to solve and the involvement of at least 4 people.
8D problem solving provides a systematic process to find and solve problems. Therefore, if the problem requires choosing between alternative solutions, 8D acknowledges that other tools may help solve the problem better than the 8D process.
The 8D Problem Solving Process
The steps below form the 8 Discipline process and achieve targeted problem solving through the various steps.
This discipline is also known as the Pre 8D because it aims to have a general understanding of the problem and to determine if the 8D process is the right method to use. At this stage the team aims to answer general questions such as:
- Is this a new problem or has it happened before?
- Is this a recurring problem?
- What is the history of this issue?
- What was the method used to solve the problem before?
At this stage, the target is to learn about the problem’s history and decide if the 8D process is the best tool to solve the problem.
D1: Team Formation
Thinking as a team can produce more efficient solutions than trying to solve a problem alone. The team includes all the stakeholders associated with the problem. The team communicates with each other and performs brainstorming in order to solve the problem. If the team does not know each other, the brainstorming time can be used to learn how teach members think. To explore ideas together, methods can be used in the brainstorming session such as Mind Mapping, Six Thinking Hats, Lego Serious Play, and others.
D2: Describe the problem
After team formation, the second step is to understand the problem and its risks. This stage starts with a risk analysis to identify the situation and how it can affect the project flow. A number of methods can be used to analyze the problem from different perspectives, these include SWOT analysis, SCAMPER technique and similar tools. This stage is essential to building a clear vision about the problem and make sure all the stakeholders have the same understanding to the situation.
D3: Develop a temporary containment plan
While solving the problem, there should be a temporary containment plan to prevent the problem from affecting the rest of the project or the final product. This temporary containment solution is a short-term operation such as adding more labor, increasing the quality measurements, applying a risk plan, etc.
It is very important to understand that the containment action is not the actual solution and is only to be used for a short term. Therefore, this action can be applied internally and not affect the process of reaching the permanent solution.
D4: Determine and verify root causes
This stage aims to investigate the root causes of the problem; it can be considered the core of the 8D problem solving process. In many problems, what we see as causes are actually symptoms of other root causes. This misunderstanding can lead to incorrect attempts at solutions that can have negative consequences in the future and leave the underlying problem unsolved.
An intensive investigation should be implemented because, in many cases, the root cause is hidden inside the process and covered by many symptoms, causing confusion. There are a number of tools that can be used to define the root causes of the problem, such as brainstorming, statistical analysis, flow charts, audits, etc.
D5: Verify permanent solution
Once the root cause is defined, the solution starts to become obvious and the team has a better understanding of how to solve the problem. However, the symptoms and other related factors may create difficulties in deciding how best to apply the solution. So, these other factors should be considered when determining the permanent solution for the dilemma.
While choosing the permanent solution of the problem, it should meet with the following criteria in order to ensure it is the ideal solution for the problem:
- The solution should be practical
- The solution should be feasible
- The solution should be cost-effective
- The solution should not fail during production
- The solution should be implemented to all affected facilities in the company
D6: Implement the permanent solution
Once the solution is approved, this step tends to work as an action plan. This plan aims to outline the steps that need to be taken to implement the solution. It is common to ask questions in this stage, such as: What should done? Who should be involved in the correction plan?
If the solution is complex and needs further procedures, more documentations and detailed plans should be created. The plan may include training the team and checking the plan’s progress for further development and improvement.
D7: Prevent recurrence
Once the action plan is set and ready to be implemented, the team should establish a plan to prevent the problem from occurring in the future. The action plan should be tested and documented as part of the process in order to prevent recurrence of the problem. Some of the tools that can be used to achieve this goal are Control Charts, Capabilities Analysis, and Control Plans.
D8: Congratulate your team
After completing the task and implementing the solution, the team deserves an acknowledgment of their work and a celebration. This will have a positive impact on the stakeholders. This also reflects recognition of employees’ efforts from the management inside the company.
The 8D Problem Solving process provides a solid and systematic method that ensures that the problems inside a company or project is solved through eliminating its root causes and prevent recurrence. However, it is most suitable for complex problems that can take weeks or even months to solve. Therefore, the first stage aims to determine if the 8D process is even suitable for the problem or if simpler tools should be implemented. If the 8D problem solving method is appropriate for your business’ problem, you have a step-by-step template to guide you through your attempts to find a suitable solution to the obstacle you need to overcome.
Have you ever had a problem that refused to go away? No matter what you did, sooner or later it would return, perhaps in another form.
Stubborn and recurrent problems are often symptoms of deeper issues. "Quick fixes" may seem convenient, but they often solve only the surface issues and waste resources that could otherwise be used to tackle the real cause.
In this article and in the video, below, we look at 5 Whys – a simple but powerful tool for cutting quickly through the outward symptoms of a problem to reveal its underlying causes, so that you can deal with it once and for all.
Watch this video to learn how to get to the root of a problem using the 5 Whys technique, and solve it quickly and effectively.
Origins of 5 Whys
Sakichi Toyoda, one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution, developed the technique in the 1930s. He was an industrialist, inventor and founder of Toyota Industries. His method became popular in the 1970s, and Toyota still uses it to solve problems today.
Toyota has a "go and see" philosophy. This means that its decision making is based on an in-depth understanding of what's actually happening on the shop floor, rather than on what someone in a boardroom thinks might be happening.
The 5 Whys technique is true to this tradition, and it is most effective when the answers come from people who have hands-on experience of the process being examined. It is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you drill down to its root cause by asking "why?" five times. Then, when a counter-measure becomes apparent, you follow it through to prevent the issue from recurring.
The 5 Whys uses "counter-measures," rather than solutions. A counter-measure is an action or set of actions that seeks to prevent the problem arising again, while a solution may just seek to deal with the symptom. As such, counter-measures are more robust, and will more likely prevent the problem from recurring.
When to Use the 5 Whys
You can use 5 Whys for troubleshooting, quality improvement and problem solving, but it is most effective when used to resolve simple or moderately difficult problems.
You need to be more careful when you're tackling complex or critical problems. 5 Whys can lead you to pursue a single track, or a small number of tracks, of enquiry when there could be multiple causes. In cases such as these, a wider-ranging method such as Cause and Effect Analysis or Failure Mode and Effects Analysis may be more effective.
This simple technique, however, can often direct you quickly to the root(s) of a problem. So, whenever a system or process isn't working properly, give it a try before you embark on a more in-depth approach – and certainly before you attempt to develop a solution.
This tool's simplicity gives it great flexibility, too, and it combines well with other methods and techniques, such as Root Cause Analysis. It is often associated with Lean Manufacturing, where it is used to identify and eliminate wasteful practices. It is also used in the analysis phase of the Six Sigma quality improvement methodology.
How to Use 5 Whys
The model follows a very simple seven-step process:
Step 1. Assemble a Team
Gather together people who are familiar with the detail of the problem and with the process that you're trying to fix. Include someone to act as a facilitator, who can keep the team focused on identifying effective counter-measures.
Step 2. Define the Problem
If you can, observe the problem in action. Discuss it with your team and write a brief, clear problem statement that you all agree on. For example, "Team A isn't meeting its response time targets" or "Software release B resulted in too many rollback failures."
Then, write your statement on a whiteboard, leaving enough space around it to write your answers to the repeated question, "Why?"
Step 3. Ask the First "Why?"
Ask your team why the problem is occurring. (For example, "Why isn't team A meeting its response time targets?")
Asking "why?" sounds simple, but answering it requires thought and intelligent application. Search for answers that are grounded in fact: they must be accounts of things that have actually happened – not guesses at what might have happened.
This prevents 5 Whys from becoming just a process of deductive reasoning, which can generate a large number of possible causes and, sometimes, create more confusion as you chase down hypothetical problems.
Your team members may come up with one obvious reason why, or several plausible ones. Record their answers under (or to the right of) your problem statement as succinct phrases, rather than single words or lengthy statements. For example, saying "volume of calls is too high" is better than a vague "overloaded."
Step 4. Ask "Why?" Four More Times
Working sequentially along one of the answers you generated in Step 3, ask four further "whys" in succession. Frame the question each time in response to the answer you've just recorded, and again record your responses to the right.
Try to move on quickly from one question to the next, so that you have the full picture before you jump to any conclusions.
The diagram, below, shows an example of 5 Whys in action in a simple format, following a single lane of inquiry.
Figure 1: 5 Whys (single lane)
5 Whys also allows you to follow multiple lanes of inquiry, as we show in Figure 2, below.
In our example, asking "Why was the delivery late?" identifies a second answer (Reason 2). Asking "Why?" for that answer reveals a single reason (Reason 1), which you can address with a counter-measure.
Similarly, asking "Why did the job take longer than expected?" has a second answer (Reason 2), and asking "Why?" at this point reveals a single reason (Reason 1). Another "Why?" here identifies two possibilities (Reasons 1 and 2) before a possible counter-measure.
There is also a second reason for "Why we ran out of printer ink" (Reason 2), and a single answer for the next "Why?" (Reason 1), that can then be addressed with a counter-measure.
Figure 2: 5 Whys (multiple lanes)
Step 5. Know When to Stop
You'll have revealed the nature of the root cause when asking "why" produces no more useful responses and you can go no further. An appropriate counter-measure or process change should then become evident. (As we said earlier, if you're not sure whether you've uncovered the real root cause, consider using a more in-depth problem-solving technique like Cause and Effect Analysis, Root Cause Analysis or FMEA.)
The "5" in 5 Whys is really just a "rule of thumb." In some instances, you may need to go on and ask "why?" a few more times before you get to the root of the problem. In others, you may reach this point before you ask your fifth "why?" If you do, be careful that you've not stopped too soon, and that you're not simply accepting "knee-jerk" responses.
The important point is to stop asking "why?" when the useful responses stop coming.
As you work through your chain of questioning, you'll often find that someone has failed to take a necessary action. The great thing about 5 Whys is that it prompts you to go further than just assigning blame, and to ask why that happened. This often points to organizational issues or areas where processes need to be improved.
If you identified more than one reason in Step 3, repeat this process for the different branches of your analysis until you reach a root cause for each one.
Step 6. Address the Root Cause(s)
Now that you've identified at least one true root cause, you need to discuss and agree what counter-measures will prevent the problem from recurring.
Step 7. Monitor Your Measures
Keep a close watch on how effectively your counter-measures eliminate or minimize the initial problem. You may need to amend them, or replace them with something different. If this happens, it would be sensible to repeat the 5 Whys process to ensure that you've identified the correct root cause.
The 5 Whys strategy is a simple, effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. You can use it in troubleshooting, problem solving and quality improvement initiatives.
Start with a problem and ask "why" it is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact, then ask "why" again. Continue the process until you reach the problem's root cause, and you can identify a counter-measure that prevents it from recurring.
Bear in mind that this questioning process is best suited to simple to moderately-difficult problems. Complex problems may benefit from a more detailed approach (although using 5 Whys will still give you useful insights).
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