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Developing a Problem-Solving Culture: Nurturing a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Lean/TPM Knowledge

In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, companies are increasingly founded on the principles of operational excellence and strategic innovation. The ability to consistently enhance existing value, introduce fresh forms of value, and navigate challenges is pivotal for achieving stability and growth. However, along the journey of implementation, challenges and obstacles are inevitable. To effectively tackle these, organizations must foster a robust problem-solving culture within their ranks.
Pathway to a PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Employee Community
A problem-solving culture refers to an employee community where improvement is seamlessly woven into daily operations, processes become conduits for continuous enhancements that elevate value delivery to end customers and improvements are thoughtfully aligned with the company’s overarching strategic objectives.
Sustaining a Problem-Solving Culture
Cultivating a problem-solving culture necessitates change management. One model revolves around the 4 E’s:
Expectation Setting
Initiating change begins with setting or recalibrating expectations. In scenarios demanding a 97% yield, settling for 90% yield is untenable. While seemingly evident, many workplaces allow shortfalls to persist unchecked and unexamined. Over time, performance targets might shift from “need to haves” to mere “nice to haves.” Through collaboration between leadership and employees, facilitate the creation of a shared understanding of what constitutes normal versus abnormal. Be certain this understanding is communicated via clearly articulated and disseminated expectations.
Once expectations are crystal clear, employees require problem-solving techniques that can be swiftly employed whenever expectations falter. Given the diversity of challenges, individuals should be adept at promptly identifying problem scopes and applying the appropriate techniques. At this stage, introduction of problem-solving processes such as: 5 Whys, CEDAC (Team-Based Problem-Solving), A3 Problem Solving, and even DMAIC/Six Sigma* that will allow employee teams to get to root-cause.
Armed with explicit expectations and a repertoire of tools, the next phase is to empower employees to practically utilize these tools and techniques. Assume the role of coach for your employee community, nurturing their problem identification and resolution skills. This fosters a sense of ownership as employees seamlessly incorporate the problem-solving process into their daily responsibilities.
Execution Effectiveness
As the employee community enthusiastically integrates these techniques, leaders require a structured process for monitoring progress. Collaborate with your leadership team to devise effective metrics and audits that reinforce the culture change. And it is good to craft a series of countermeasures to deploy whenever expectations deviate from the norm.
Continuous improvement is synonymous with continual problem-solving, underscoring the need for an organizational problem-solving capability. Embracing a problem-solving culture is not just an option—it’s a prerequisite for achieving sustained excellence.

*Problem-solving techniques:

5 Whys – An effective team-based problem-solving technique employing an iterative process of asking “why.” This technique is best used for sporadic problems that occur during the workday (e.g., missing a production target in a single hour in a work shift).

CEDAC: Team-Based Problem-Solving – Another simple yet collaborative team-based problem-solving technique used by natural frontline work teams to solve problems at the source. CEDAC is a structured approach using a fishbone diagram and a series of fact and idea cards. Because this technique requires a deeper understanding of the background conditions, we suggest it for recurring problems (e.g., recurring quality loss).

A3 Problem Solving Method – A team-based problem-solving approach that addresses slightly more complex problems, often requiring a charter and sponsor. It can be more resource intensive, usually involving a cross-functional team. The level of experimentation necessary to determine root cause is also higher (e.g., for resolving an ongoing cost issue).

DMAIC/Six Sigma – A specialized problem-solving technique for cross-functional teams, DMAIC/Six Sigma is based in specific methods for quantitative analysis. Requires a good understanding of variation and the use of software tools, as well as a sponsor, a charter, and management oversight. A high level of experimentation is necessary to determine root cause (e.g., for an ongoing product/service quality issue).