Mei 29, 2011

Problem Solving Series #4 Observe the Situation

Once we know why we are solving a problem and what specifically we want to improve, we can move forward with observing the current condition of the problem. I am sure you have had numerous ways and tools to observe, from process mapping to Kano to SIPOCs. So I am not going to dwell on the tools. Instead, I am going to give away several points to consider during the observation stages:

  1. Everything follows the 'input-process-output' law. As I wrote in Simple Problem Solving, we can break down our problem into its input and process elements. 
  2. All problems are the result of issues in the inputs and processes. Therefore it is important not to miss any inputs, especially those we initially disregard as unimportant.
  3. The devil is in the detail. If we would like to find out what really happen during problem solving, we should break down all processes into their simplest step. For example: 'Get approval' (most commonly show up in flow charts) usually requires more than a single step, and it is usually very tedious, faulty, and loopy.
  4. Go to the actual place of incident and observe. Use of photos or videos might be acceptable, but the point here is that during problem solving we can never replace the actual place of action with pieces of data or even worse, pieces of words spoken by people. This is important to avoid 'terminology traps' and problem presumption we should not have.
  5. Plot performance vs time chart with a simple run chart to capture trending, behavior of performance variation, and other interesting movements of the problems. If you have been running at a certain daily yield on average, e.g. 80%, it means you have days where you have higher than 80% and lower than 80%. If you can replicate the high-days and eliminate the low-days, you end up with a better performance. You can also find out that you have been trending down or up using this method.
  6. Revisit often. There is no guarantee you will understand the situation on the first shot. Persevere and go back with the team to identify additional factors affecting your outputs. Brainstorm, observe, brainstorm and repeat.
It is best to collect these observation and put them in a storyboard, such that we can understand the size of the problems, the trend of the problems, other situations that exist before, during, or after the problems, and the steps where the problems occur. Now we are ready to analyze them.

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