Thursday, October 18, 2012

Problem Solver

               Every day, a person is most likely to run into some sort of problem.  No matter how big or small, problems hurt a process or workplace. How well these problems are handled is what separates a good company from a bad company.  When solving a problem, it is very important to make sure that the problem does not occur again.
               Problems are not always recognized until it is too late or there is data that brings it into light. During my internship, I encountered production problems every hour. Sometimes problems arose from product defects or manufacturing issues. For the most part, the problems that I came across were single occurrences and could not be prevented. However, sometimes problems were recurring. For instance, I noticed that sometimes a hard copy of the bill of materials (BoM) was needed. The software that was used took the entire BoM from the database and exported all information to an excel document. The engineer would then remove all of the unnecessary information and give the BoM to production. This process took anywhere from 15-30 minutes and occurred several times a shift. After a week or so, I realized that this was a problem that could be fixed. To resolve the issue, I created a program that took the desired data and reformatted it into neat and standard template. When I started to use the program, the BoM process took under a minute and was so simple that production could do it without an engineer.
               In hindsight, I can see that I loosely followed the Plan Do Study Act(PDSA) cycle after I faced this problem. I did not necessarily base my solution off of the cycle, but I did see the relation and importance. Sometimes smaller problems do not need to follow each step of a problem-solving process.

Problem Solving and the Deming Cycle

Problem solving is a huge part of what engineers do on a day to day basis in industry.  Factories have highly innovative processes to produce their product, but sometimes the processes lead to product failure.  Engineers have to implement a change in the process in order to fix the product defects.  Sometimes it is clear what the issues at hand are and how to fix them, other times it is very difficult to pin point the process issues. Regardless of difficulty, everyone is relying on the engineers to solve the problem and get them producing quality parts again. 

Dr. Deming did industrial engineers a huge favor by developing his Plan Do Study Act cycle (PDSA).  The PDSA cycle is a step by step process to help discover the root cause of the problem.  The Planning phase is to recognize there is a problem present, form an improvement team, develop performance measures, and clearly define the problem.  This step allows you to prepare for the problem solving process and begin to find out the root cause of the problem.  The Do part of the cycle is when we identify, choose, and implement our solution.  After the solution is implemented, we dive into the Study phase and monitor the process.  An important part of this cycle is to have a way to measure during the study phase after implementing the solution.  If we can quantify it, we can compare numbers and see the improvement.  The last part of the cycle is Act, which means what are we going to do now to continuously improve the process.  After implementing a solution, did it fix the problem completely and is there room for more improvement?  If the answer is yes than the cycle starts over again, if its no than the PDSA is over and the problem is fixed. 

The Deming cycle is a great tool for finding the root cause of the problem and implementing a solution in a fast, organized manner.  After all Industrial engineers strive to be efficient in all aspects and the Deming cycle keeps everyone on task when problem solving.

-Dan Westerheide

Plan Do Check Act to Solve Problems

It seems to me that the older I get the projects or problems that I do and solve it always seems that with  these projects or problems people just want to get it done as fast as possible. Through doing this it seems that people just want to go do things and try to do things fast then check them later. Especially students try to do things as fast as possible in order to go on to another task and worry about any of the effects at a later time. Through using something like plan do check act it allows for something that allows solving problems and not only solving it but continuously improving.  
            The first part of plan do check act is planning. This planning part identifies what the problem is exactly. Through this step it allows analysis of what is going on now and trying to find a real reason for why there is importance to a project. This is important without a clear understanding of what the problem is or why you are doing this project there is no reason for the project. Through this step it is important to define the problem in a clear way possibly rephrases the problem. This is also the information stage and important to gather information about what is going on and starting to observe the problem and gathering information. Which happens sometimes in groups I've been a part of but not necessarily all the time when I have a big project it is more focused about the end result and not much planning goes into the project. In the groups we have done this step we have had great success on those projects. Also making sure that there are the right people on my team too and also trying to get people who could help my team be successful too.
            Second is the do part. This part is implementing the plan that has happened after the research has been completed and objectives have been set up. This part is important to set objectives that are manageable and obtainable by the end of the project. This part defines the necessary changes that need to be made, and defines the action plan. It also makes the necessary ways to monitor the results. In one of the best groups I’ve had we had great ways to measure our results and ways to continuously improve on what we have done. After that comes check where you verify the results of the do phase and make sure that things meet the measures that are trying to be obtained. This part allows the ability to see if all objectives have been met. It is also important to see where you were against where you are currently and always not being satisfied. The act stage allows for review. The act stage allows for new ideas to try to solve problems and continuous improvement. I know that in most companies that it is important to keep improving and keep quality as an important part of everything.
            Through PDCA allows for planning that most people try to skip because it seems to take too long, but it is essential to plan because it is cheaper to mess up and fix it then have multiple parts mess up and be sent back for repair. The doing part allows one to prioritize solutions and find ways to monitor results and strategies to implement change. The study stage allows the ability to evaluate your solution and make sure all objectives and the plan works. Finally act allows for continuous improvement review new ideas and set new standards to improve. I find that through using this process I feel it not only delivers the best results and keeps getting results.  

8D Methodology

     Over the past few weeks our class has been meeting in groups to work on the KU dining hall project.  My team is focusing in on efficiency.  Something that I have been doing in the group is helping complete the 8D methodology of problem solving for the project.  This is an in-depth tool for setting up the problem and tackling it.  We have currently completed the D0 and D1 steps of the methodology.  This system really makes sure that you do the pre-solving work, and don’t just jump in with ill-advised answers.
     The thing that has taken us the longest has been deciding what we want our goals and objectives to be.  The goals are meant to be a broad overview of what you want to accomplish.  The objectives on the other hand are meant to be metrics of whether or not you met your goals.  Without objectives, it would be impossible to know if your goals were completed, as many times words like “help” and “make better” are used in goal statements.  The objectives give desired 10% changes or x amount of improvement.

     Another part of the early 8D setup is gathering the correct people to join your problem-solving team.  Part of the D1 stage is listing the team members and also what relevant skills they bring to the table.  Configuring a diverse yet educated team will provide the best insight for solving the problem.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mistakes in Problem Solving

Problem solving happens in everyday life. When it comes to problem solving in business the problems become much more difficult. Having taken 4 classes focusing on quality that requires problem solving and how to problem solve. I wanted to focus on some of the mistakes that teams make while in the process of problem solving from my experience and an article I have read about general problems of problem solving.  I am going to focus on three general mistakes that teams make the lack of GEMBA walks, Root Cause analysis, and Performance Measure.

Many teams when problem solving, hear the problem from the person if affects and does not actually experience the problem. GEMBA, are walks that problem solvers take to see the problem. I have had experience where three of us are in a room trying to solve the problem with hypothetical guesses. A team that guesses about the process they have not seen normally doesn't work. Take the team to go see the current situation and utilize the information and facts that you collect from the GEMBA walk and talking to the workers and the customers.

Root Cause is a key component of problem solving. All teams do a version of a root cause analysis however, there needs to be a strong leader during this step to keep the team focused on what the plausible causes could be while brainstorming and finding the root cause. The problem that often occurs when trying to find the root cause are teams often get focused on the results or open up a new generic problem that is not focused on the problem at hand. It is important for the leader of the team to keep the team focused, break down every problem and harness the team to stay with in the scope of the problem.

Finally, the other mistake that I have personally witnessed is lack of performance measuring.  The burden of measuring performance with outdated software tends to be a nuisance in businesses however that is not a problem nor excuse not to measure performance. There should be two questions that are asked before you begin problem solving. 1 What should be happening? 2 What is actually happening? And the next step is to quantify those questions with actual data. It is not a matter of having computer software to tell you the data but rather having the right people to go out and find and collect the correct data. If there is not a significant measurable gab then a problem solving report such as a A3 will be extremely difficult to measure. You will not know the countermeasures are effectively addressing the root cause.


Problem Solving with PDCA

When problem solving, it is important to have a plan of attack.  It is a good idea to have a basis for what you will be doing, I would suggest the PDCA cycle.  According to the ASQ website, the Plan Do Check Act cycle is a four step model for carrying out change.  It is ideal for continuous improvement because it is a never ending cycle that should be repeated over and over again.  It can be used for numerous situations such as starting a new project, developing a new or improved design, in planning, or when implementing any change.  There are four parts to the cycle including: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

During the Plan phase it is a must to thoroughly study the problem.  Next, an in depth analysis of the problem should be performed.  Ideas for a remedy of the problem can then be developed.  Lastly, a plan can be made.

The plan is implemented and put into action during the Do phase.

The Check phase is then used to verify the conformity against the plans and requirements.  It is ideal to measure the effects of the implementation and compare with the target goal.

The Act phase is used as a review.  A review of the new ideas to establish a new standard and or modify the strategy.

Once a successful new plan or idea is implemented, the PDCA cycle can be used continuously to keep improving the process.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Electronic Design Problem Solving

Problem solving is a tool that is used by everyone one way or another. People use the tool in varying degrees and in different orders. There are many different ways to go about solving a problem.  In the field of electronics I feel that we follow the typical pattern of problem solving but spend more time in the testing phase.

We are usually faced with a general design of what the final product should accomplish. This is the biggest difference with the general problem solving methods that I have encountered. Contrary to problem solving for the answer, we are given or determine what the end result should be and problem solve to produce the desired specifications.

Once we know the specifications of the design, we do research and perform calculations to determine the needed components to get the results we need. Once we have the components that are believed to give the output we desire, we build a prototype of the circuit and test it. Testing includes but is not limited to varying the voltage, capacitors, and voltage frequencies. After testing we have a good idea about how all the components work together and affect each other.

After testing, we can either go back to the design and test phase or finalize a design and run tests again to verify the design before it is put into production or inserted into an existing circuit.

My Problem Solving Method

The first stage in the problem solving process is identifying the problem.   Sometimes this stage is taken the most lightly and you have to return to this stage because it is difficult to find the true root cause of the issue.  It is important to identify problems to be able to have concrete objectives to measure. Once you have come up with possible solutions for the problems you should look at the outcomes of each solution.  Some solutions might have positives and negative results and you need to look at the various outcomes of each of these conditions.. 
1)  Identify the Problem
2) Come up with possible solutions
3) Revert to #1 if solutions are not substantial enough
4) Look at the possible outcomes of each solution
5) Analyze and study the outcome
6) Decide which solution best fits the problem identifed in #1

I choose this method because it is always important to keep in mind that Ideniftying your problem is your most important step.  If your team or you personally do not spend a lot of time identifying and working with the problem, it will hurt you throughout your problem solving process.  Identifying the problem is refered to very often throughout the problem solving steps. So you must get to the floor and see what actually is causing the problem.

Once you have applied corrective actions to the problem, you then should analyze and study the outcome.  This is the stage where youmight need to go back to the drawing board and make sure that you have collected adequate data, have a good understanding of the problem, and  their root causes.  After you have worked through the outcomes and find out what your best solution is, you then should decide, make the final improvements and institute the solution for sustainable change.