How to Solve Any Problem with the Eight Disciplines (8D)

What’s the best way to solve product and process-related problems? According to Ford Motor Company’s Team Orientated Problem Solving program (TOPS), you need to take an 8-D perspective. It’s not as complicated as it may sound. The 8Ds or disciplines, target three basic aims: identify the problem, correct it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Since the eight disciplines were first defined, the philosophy has been adjusted with the addition of a “0” discipline, so we’re really looking at nine steps or disciplines to guide you on your path to problem-solving success. Don’t be deterred by the word “discipline,” the process outlined in the eight (or nine) disciplines provides a straightforward template for problem-solving, and you don’t need any special training to follow it.

D0: Prepare For Problem Solving

Nobody likes putting out fires, but preparedness can avert disaster. The D0 step is the added discipline that gives us a total of nine, and it was tacked on after the eight disciplines had already been formulated.

The need for this additional step will be apparent to anyone who has faced a potential business disaster. Panicking isn’t a solution, and since the kind of problems we address with 8D methodology aren’t predictable, its good to be prepared for the unexpected and be ready to face it with a cool head. Knowing how you’ll respond in emergencies helps you to act faster.

Once you’ve taken this vital step, you can begin working on any problems that arise without losing your cool.

D1: You Need the Right Team

You need inside information from the people best-acquainted with the process or product that proved to be dysfunctional. It’s important that they understand what role they’ll play in fixing the problem. You should let them know that you’re not looking to pin blame on someone – you’re a project team working on solving the problem.

To complete all eight disciplines, you need a committed and knowledgeable team composed of members who are as eager to solve the problem and prevent its recurrence as you are. Communication is key. When things go wrong, those with the most intimate knowledge of the product or process are waiting for the ax to fall. They will feel responsible for the problem, but that works in your favor when you allow them an opportunity to be part of the solution.

D2: Define What the Problem Is

Knowing what the problem you’re working on might seem obvious – but it usually isn’t. To avoid miscommunication between your team, you need to clearly define what the problem (and the definition should cover all the bases). Just saying “A component is faulty,” for example, isn’t a clear enough definition. To get all the details you need to effectively define a problem, you need to use the 5W2H approach. In a nutshell, you need to figure out…

  • Who is directly affected by the problem? Is it your customers? Is it a problem that was picked up internally?
  • What is the problem? Pinpoint it as finely as you can. A customer who has a customer service or technical complaint might have one or more reasons to be unhappy. Exactly what was it that didn’t work?
  • When was the problem first picked up?
  • Where did it happen? Your problem-solving approach is a bit like a game of Cluedo. Defining the problem means you need to know the location as well as the person, the particulars of the problem, and its timing.
  • Why did it happen? Your team may have more than one explanation as to why the problem happened. Record all the possible reasons they can think of.
  • How did it happen? Circumstances are important too. This piece of information is vital because it might point towards an overlooked scenario that you’ll need to take into account in future.
  • How many / much? Quantification forms the basis of measurement. It will also help you to determine how effective your problem-solving efforts have been once you’ve implemented solutions.

D3: What Interim Measures Can You take to Contain or Limit the Consequences of the Problem?

Letting a potentially problematic system run or producing potentially defective products will only amplify the problem you’re trying to solve. Interim measures could be as drastic as stopping production. This, however, is sometimes mandatory. It’s better to delay shipment rather than ship a defective product.

Damage control is not a permanent solution, but at least it ensures that you’ve limited the negative effects the problem has on your customers and your business. Allowing work to continue as normal when you know that there’s a problem isn’t an option you can risk.

While you and your team search for solutions, you need to know that further harm to your business reputation isn’t happening. Decide on the right strategy to temporarily curtail the issue and implement it as soon as possible and move on to D4.

D4: What Caused the Problem?

Identifying the root cause of a problem can be trickier than it seems on the surface. There’ll usually be a chain of events leading up to an issue, and solving the problem requires you to track the chain of events that led up to it all the way back to the single set of circumstances that triggered it.

For example, a clothing manufacturer discovers that the seams of its jackets are coming apart. It would be easy to blame the person who was in charge of the stitching, but perhaps the machine was faulty, and its just possible that the machine was faulty because of the type of cotton that was fed into it, and the wrong cotton was fed into it because there was a mix-up in the stores, but the stores only made their error because the supplier didn’t label packages properly.

Use the 6m method to help you track problems to their source:

  • Man or Manpower: If it seems that human error is to blame, what caused the mistake? Was the operator aware of what is required? Did he or she have sufficient training to meet the requirements of the job? What if he or she wasn’t physically up to the task?
  • Machine: If you thought that working with machines was any easier, think again. There is a multitude of reasons why machines might fail. Is the right equipment being used? Was the equipment correctly calibrated? Has the machine been adequately maintained so that it is in good working order?
  • Materials: As any manufacturer will know, you can’t make good quality products out of poor materials. But were the right materials being used? Did they have the right physical or chemical properties?
  • Method: your staff could be well-trained, your machines well-maintained, and your materials of a suitable standard, but if the methods used aren’t up to scratch, you aren’t going to get the desired results.
  • Measurement: If you ever added a tablespoon of salt to a recipe that required a teaspoon, you’ll know that using the correct, standard measurements are necessary if you want to get good results.
  • Environment: The workplace environment: temperature, humidity, light, and cleanliness can also be to blame when problems arise.

Other than the 6m method, you could also try using the 5 Whys analysis. It’s a problem-solving methodology that helps you find the rootcausee of an issue by asking “why” enough times.

D5: Decide on Appropriate Corrective Action

Now that you and your team are confident that you’ve pinpointed the cause of the problem you encountered, it’s time to start working on the determination of solutions. This could involve generating a list of possible actions and thinning it down to the ones you think likely to be the most effective. Your aim is to remove the cause of the problem, and that could entail anything from a simple intervention to a multi-faceted improvement plan.

Whatever solutions you choose, you need to be sure that the measures you implement will continue being implemented in the long-term. This may involve setting up a system of checks and balances, additional quality control measures, or extra steps to be incorporated into standard workflows.

D6: Act and Confirm that Your Action Corrected the Problem

Having come this far with the eight disciplines approach to problem-solving, you might feel that it’s time to celebrate success, but you still need to wait a little longer. This is only the fifth of the eight disciplines, so although you’ve come a long way, your job isn’t done yet. Implementing the sixth discipline (corrective action) is even more important than deciding what ought to be done.

Communicate with affected employees so that they can understand the importance of any changes that are likely to affect them, why you’re making these changes, and what problem you’re working to eliminate. But even once they’re doing everything according to the new methods you’ve devised with your team, you still need to be sure that you’ve correctly identified and dealt with the gremlin that’s the cause of your woes.

That means careful monitoring of the “what” that started you on your problem-solving journey. Have you eliminated the problem? Keep tabs on your outputs in the long-term to be sure that you have.

D7: Prevent the Recurrence of the Problem and Entrench New Standards

So far, you and your team have hit the spot. You’ve identified why things went wrong, and you’ve successfully introduced changes that address the root cause of the problem that set you all to work. But you haven’t reached the final step just yet. By introducing new methods, you’ve effectively introduced a new standard, and you want that standard to be upheld. Your company’s reputation depends on it.

The work you’ve done has shown that you need to make changes to the way your company does things. You’ve implemented the modifications you and your team thought necessary with success. But these changes need to be incorporated into long-term business processes so that they become second-nature. There will certainly be changes to policies, procedures, and workflows even if they’re as simple as adding a new quality-control step to a process.

The Change management process can be tough, even if you’re only improving or changing a single process. Be sure everyone’s on the same page and follow up. To make this step easier, you can try either documenting your new processes or adopting workflow management software.

Workflow software can help enforce any changes you make to the new process – rather than having to manually explain the change to the employee, you can simply let the software do it for you.

D8: Eight Disciplines Reached. Celebrate Success With your Team

Without your problem-solving team, you would never have come this far or been this successful. By putting your heads together, you have permanently resolved a knotty problem. That’s reason to celebrate, and it’s also time to thank each team member for his or her contributions to the process. Each of them deserves recognition, and that recognition should be formal and organization-wide.

It’s also time to renew you and your team’s commitment to continuous improvement a commitment no organization should be without. Giving thanks where they are due will encourage future efforts, both within your team and across the organization. Who doesn’t want to be a hero? The eight disciplines approach to problem-solving depends on your team, and they deserve the recognition you give them.

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