Being persistent and precise, pays off when problem solving.
A client was assisted with an internal problem solving session. A lot of time was spent analyzing a long standing problem. This problem was a "worst ever."
This problem started years ago, at the inception of production at this facility. Problem solving felt chaotic, there was a lack of data and information and studying the process revealed that the problem psychically occurs in the automated part of the production line where it is impossible to do observation.
The problem scenario: In the few words – Sporadically certain tire models stick to the mold during the vulcanization process. The problem solving team consisted of experienced engineers and technologists, all with more than 10 years experience in this factory, and they know everything about this process, and "all simple problems are resolved immediately and quickly by them," except for this "Tire Sticking to Mold" problem. They all believed that this problem must be complicated, because they were not able to find the cause. They did all possible types of analysis.
- No correlations were found in respect of type of mold, machine used, tire model, work shift etc.
- The only verifiable known fact was that they had "no problem tires" and "problem tires."
The KEPNERandFOURIE CauseWise process was used and employed to analyze the problem. A Problem Specification containing all necessary data and information specification was put together. The problem specification can be summarized as follow:
- Tire X sticks to the mold and several other tires did not
- The team therefore, was able to define what the problem IS
- Also what it could be, BUT IS NOT
- And the deviation from standard (i.e. sticking to the mold when it should not).
After approximately 2 hours, the team failed to move forward solving this problem. The session stopped. The next day, the problem solving session reconvened. They knew the direct technical cause "tire sticking to mold."
The next day a simple question was put to the team:
- "Do you know why a tire would stick to a mold?"
- The answer was along the lines of “It’s not that easy, it’s related to tire construction…”
A follow up question was put to the team:
- "What must psychically happen to cause the ‘effect’ of a tire sticking to a mold?
- "Well, many factors may cause it, it will take days to analyse all of them."
A further follow up question was put to the team:
- "What do you do in the production process to avoid sticking?"
- Then a simple answer "We use an anti-adhesive agent."
- … we leave you to conclude what the root cause of this problem was …
A technologist in the problem solving team then shared the following humorous anecdote with us:
- Why did the elephant not attend college?
- Well, he did not finish primary school.
- Why he did not finish primary school? ….
- Well … the doors were to small…
Is it funny? Maybe a bit, but most important is the context, within which the anecdote was shared with us. The learning from this session was that, often, we know the direct technical reason of a problem. Because of the environment or the long standing nature of the problem, we assume that it must be a complex problem, and yet it may not be complex at all. In this case (a) a tire must have contact with the mold to be manufactured, (b) different tires may have different construction methods, but (a) the tire must have contact with the mold, and (d) it sticks to the mold …. The team now knew what part of the process to create a solution for. The rest was simple.
This anecdote about the elephant was very apt given circumstances; we were looking for a complex problem, focusing on the elephant. In fact, the direct technical reason for the problem was known, by focusing on the direct technical reason, "tire sticking" the team was able to narrow down the root cause to the application of anti-adhesive agent.
The lesson known in KEPNERandFOURIE circles, which was confirmed here was: make sure that you find the direct technical cause and then only drill down to root cause. Root Cause, simply put, is often related to what people do, or not do.