Please Tell Me There Are More Quality Tools Than Fish Bone and the 5 Whys!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a huge fan of both these methods especially for training related errors.  However, there are a lot of other quality tools in the problem solving toolbox that aren’t as popularly used.  In this blog, I will continue part two of the previous blog, RCA Meetings vs. Problem Solving Discussions in which I presented an alternative problem-solving model that helps investigators take a deeper dive into understanding the problem first (#1), then asking a series of questions to generate possible causes (#2) that move from the event trigger to patterns to systems glitches.

So many tools, so little time!

Before Google became a verb, the best way to learn about a problem-solving tool was to ask someone, ask to borrow his or her “The Memory Jogger” pocket guide, or wait patiently to take your course.  Getting information at your fingertips instantly is no longer a barrier.  But the consequence of too many available tools can lead to confusion and indecision resulting in sticking to what is familiar instead. One way to mitigate the bewilderment is to choose these tools by which stage the investigation is in and whether the team needs to analyze the process or the collected data.

Where are you in the investigation?

Are you exploring and just learning more about the triggering event?  Are you generating possible causes and need an organized decision making technique?  Or are you verifying and eliminating causes?  Refreshing on the purpose of the tool helps the Lead Investigator make the right tool choice.  Consider the Job Aid: Which Tool to Use When?

WHAT IS THE ASSIGNABLE CAUSE?

Just because the team has generated more than one possible cause does not mean that one of them has to be the root cause by default.  Has the team asked the “second right answer”?  Charles “Chic” Thompson, in his book, What a Great Idea, explains that we’ve been trained to look for the right answer, to seek the one and only answer, ever since we started school.  Instead, he suggests that we ease “into a new frame of mind” by asking a host of questions in search of potential solutions.  Included in this perspective, is asking, “dumb” but penetrating questions that lead to finding “the true source of bottlenecks buried deep in habitual routines of the firm”.  

When the team has really explored all possible causes, then it’s time to switch tools and use data analysis tools such as histograms, run/control charts, and/or scatter diagrams.

“A fishbone represents opinions.  Opinions must be verified with facts before action to change is taken.”  

Waste Chasers: A Pocket Companion to Quality and Productivity, p.43.

Pareto charts can be very helpful when you need to display the relative importance of all of the conditions in order to identify the basic cause of the problem.  It helps the team to focus on those causes that will have the greatest impact if solved.  The team has to agree on the most probable cause aka the root cause.  One of the best decision making tools I’ve experienced is Nominal Group Technique.  NGT provides a way to give everyone in the group/team an equal voice in the selection.  Team members rank the items without being pressured by others.  Therefore, it builds commitment to the team’s choice through equal participation in the process.

What is the solution?

One of the most versatile tools in the arsenal is brainstorming.  It’s quick; it’s easy to administer and almost everyone has experienced a session or two.  We like it because it is an efficient way to generate a lot of ideas that are free of criticism and judgment when facilitated properly. 

At this point in the investigation, some members on the team finally get to share their ideas on how to solve the problem.  For teams pressed for time, having already made ideas sounds like a gift ready to be opened.  And yet, there can be a tendency to allow the eager problem solvers to dominate the discussion and solution path forward. 

A nice warm up exercise prior to the solution brainstorm, is to assign an individual idea map first.  By mapping individuals’ own thoughts first, they are not lost to the group’s brainstorming results when the time comes to participate in the session. The original ideas, thoughts, and even impulses can be easily shared since they have already been captured in their own idea map.

For teams stuck in the “same old way” mindset or wrestling with a frustrating repeat problem, try switching up the brainstorm trigger word.  For example, the trigger word “when solved” can help us work backwards.  Or use the opposite trigger word and brainstorm on ideas to make it true.  Try a random trigger word or a metaphorical trigger phrase such as (the problem …) is like … the day after a vacation when … .  I’ve seen amazing idea maps resulting from stepping up the brainstorming trigger words.  If the team is still stuck, compare all of the maps to look for commonalities or common themes.  And sometimes you just have to change your shoes or take a walk outside to shift your thoughts.

What is the best way to implement the solution?

Now, the team is responsible for bringing their ideas into reality aka the corrective actions / CAPA Plan.  One of my favorite tools is the Force Field Analysis when the team is working on corrective actions.  The tool helps team members to identify forces and factors that will support or work against the solution of an issue so that the positives can be reinforced and /or the negatives eliminated or reduced. It forces the team to think through all the aspects of making the desired change a permanent one. 

“After falling in love with your idea, you must also be prepared to fall out of love.”

Charles Thompson, What A Great Idea, p.161.

Now Just Do It

Implementing the corrective action(s) may be the longest duration depending upon the scope of the project and therefore needs to be managed using project management techniques.  And that could be the basis of another blog series. 

Close the Investigation

Before the investigation can be closed, the effectiveness check needs to be performed and evaluated as described in the CAPA plan. Over the course of the incident and its CAPA, the story evolves.  This is normal and expected especially as we learn more.  To an outsider reviewing the investigation report, the story and all the supporting evidence has to be understandable, even to someone internal to the organization but not involved in the investigation, the CAPA or the project. 

The Lead Investigator must review the entire file one more time to finalize the problem statement and confirm the cause statement given what is known at this final point of the investigation.  The following is a list of questions to ask:

  • Is the report easy to follow? Is there a logical flow?
  • Is the report free of unnecessary documentation? Is it uncluttered?
  • Is there sufficient information to back up the investigation, results and the outcome?
  • Does the report support decisions about product disposition?

Conclusion

Part One of this blog suggested the use of a more creative problem-solving approach to help us see our problems using systems thinking perspective.  Systems Thinkers understand complex relationships and their interdependencies. They step up and take responsibility to fix the problem.

In part two, I suggested different problem solving tools to use depending on the investigation stage and the team’s task.  As a Performance Consultant, the problem solving approach and the plethora of “quality” tools has me excited about identifying the true root cause and implementing systematic solutions as the corrective actions because we have to get better at solving our problems.  System Thinking,

  • puts a problem into a context of the larger whole with the objective of finding the most effective place to make an appropriate change and
  • it can help us identify and respond to a series of changes before those changes lead to more unwanted deviations and CAPAs. 

Isn’t that the purpose of the PA in CAPA, the preventive actions? -VB

Root Cause Analysis and Qualifying Investigators Coaching Briefs
  • Charles “Chic” Thompson, What A Great Idea: Key Steps Creative People Take, HarperPerennial, 1992.
  • The Memory Jogger: A Pocket Guide of Tools For Continuous Improvement, GOAL/QPC, 2nd 1988.
  • Waste Chasers: A Pocket Companion to Quality and Productivity, Conway Quality, Inc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.