The Toyota Way To Problem Solving
The art of problem solving is constantly trying to evolve and be re-branded by folks in various industries. While the new way might very well be an effective method in certain applications. A tried and true way of identifying and solving problems is the eight steps to practical problem solving developed by Toyota, years ago. The system is structured, but simple and practical enough to handle problems of the smallest nature, to the most complex issues.
Using a fundamental and strategic way to solve problems creates consistency within an organization. When you base your results off facts, experience and common sense, the results form in a rational and sustainable way.
The Eight Step Problem Solving Process
- Clarify the Problem
- Breakdown the Problem
- Set the Target
- Analyze the Root Cause
- Develop Countermeasures
- Implement Countermeasures
- Monitor Results and Process
- Standardize and Share Success
The eight steps to practical problem solving also include the Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA) cycle. Steps one through five are the planning process. The doing is found in step six. Step seven is the checking . Step eight involves acting out the results of the new standard.
This practical problem solving can be powerful tool to issues facing your organization. It allows organizations to have a common understanding of what defines a problem and what steps are going to be taken in order to overcome the problem efficiently.
The Eight Steps Broken Down:
Step 1: Clarify the Problem
A problem can be defined in one of three ways. The first being, anything that is a deviation from the standard. The second could be the gap between the actual condition and the desired condition. With the third being an unfilled customer need.
In order to best clarify the problem, you have to see the problem with your own eyes. This gives you the details and hands-on experience that will allow you to move forward in the process.
Step 2: Breakdown the Problem
Once you’ve seen the problem first hand, you can begin to breakdown the problem into more detailed and specific problems. Remember, as you breakdown your problem you still need to see the smaller, individual problems with your own eyes. This is also a good time to study and analyze the different inputs and outputs of the process so that you can effectively prioritize your efforts. It is much more effective to manage and solve a bunch of micro-problems one at a time, rather than try and tackle a big problem with no direction.
Step 3: Set the Target
Step three is all about commitment and focus. Your attention should now turn towards focusing on what is needed to complete the project and how long it will take to finish. You should set targets that are challenging, but within limits and don’t put a strain on the organization that would hinder the improvement process.
Step 4: Analyze the Root Cause
This is a vital step when problem solving, because it will help you identify the actual factors that caused the issue in the first place. More often than not, there are multiple root causes to analyze. Make sure you are considering all potential root causes and addressing them properly. A proper root cause analysis, again involves you actually going to the cause itself instead of simply relying on reports.
Step 5: Develop Countermeasures
Once you’ve established your root causes, you can use that information to develop the countermeasures needed to remove the root causes. Your team should develop as many countermeasures needed to directly address any and all root causes. Once you’ve developed your countermeasures, you can begin to narrow them down to the most practical and effective based off your target.
Step 6: Implement Countermeasures
Now that you have developed your countermeasures and narrowed them down, it is time to see them through in a timely manner. Communication is extremely important in step six. You’ll want to seek ideas from the team and continue to work back through the PDCA cycle to ensure nothing is being missed along the way. Consider implementing one countermeasure at a time to monitor the effectiveness of each.
You will certainly make mistakes in throughout your problem solving processes, but your persistence is key, especially in step six.
Step 7: Monitor Results and Process
As mistakes happen and countermeasures fail, you need a system in place to review and modify them to get the intended result. You can also determine if the intended outcome was the result of the action of the countermeasure, or was it just a fluke? There is always room for improvement in the problem solving process, but you need to be able to recognize it when it comes to your attention.
Step 8: Standardize and Share Success
Now that you’ve encountered success along your problem solving path, it is time to set the new processes as the new standard within the organization and share them throughout the organization. It is also a good time to reflect on what you’ve learned and address any possible unresolved issues or troubles you have along the way. Ignoring unresolved issues will only lead to more problems down the road.
Finally, because you are a true Lean organization who believes continuous improvement never stops, it is time to tackle the next problem. Start the problem solving process over again and continue to work towards perfection.
What is Jishuken?
For those that work in a Lean inspired organization, the term “kaizen” is one of the more popular terms heard when someone talks about improvement. Kaizen though, is more of a philosophy than an actual activity. Jishuken however, is an actual activity within the kaizen philosophy that is driven by management and involves identifying specific areas in need of continuous improvement. An easy way to think of jishuken is to think of it as a “self study.” Within jishuken is another element where information is shared and spread throughout the entire organization to help stimulate kaizen.
The origin of jishuken has been said to be from a Japanese statement “kanban houshiki bukachou jishu kenkyuukai,” which means “kanban system department an section manager autonomous study groups.” This was later shortened to jishuken which is “self study” and often called “autonomous study groups” in English.
The strategy behind jishuken is primarily that of a management driven activity aimed at getting team leaders and managers to conduct hands-on kaizen activities at the operational area, like the factory floor.
When Taiichi Ohno first began to develop the Toyota Production System (TPS), he required managers to gather on the factory floor to do hands-on kaizen activities. This would generally involve department managers and section managers from the Motomachi and Kamigo factories getting together, choosing a specific theme and working towards various ways to improve processes.
Although it would have been more cost-effective to let engineers perform this type of gemba kaizen, involving the managers in the kaizen process helped them understand, take ownership and build a culture of genchi genbutsu (go and see) at Toyota.
In the early stages of the TPS, the jishuken concept began with kanban. Today however, it is more frequently used in the context of study groups within the kaizen itself. Many facilities have suggestion systems that allow all employees to apply local and small daily improvements to their process. Jishuken though, focuses on bigger projects driven by mangers that are linked to business goals.
Like many TPS activities, Jishuken has both a learning goal and a productivity goal. It’s a method of gathering managers for problem solving in the production process and continuous improvement. Maybe more importantly though, is it can also help managers continue to improve their ability to coach and teach TPS problem-solving to others.
Jishuken is also a culture building tool. It helps construct a culture that identifies problems areas at the ground level and prepares a plan with a self analysis of the system. It also helps to promote interaction of operational staff and managerial staff to complete the process.
Jishuken in Action
Many organizations have their variations of Lean procedures and concepts, but when you’re getting started it’s always best to look at the top. According to Mike Daprile, retired vice president of manufacturing for Toyota Motor, jishuken is applied to study line balance, identify machine issues, inefficiencies and other causes of waste.
Here’s how they do it according to Daprile:
- Select an area that needs improvement.
- Develop a team consisting of a lead person and personnel from various departments, including engineering, quality and production.
- Assign each team member a plant function to monitor.
- Team members ask questions for each task. For instance, in the case of changeovers, the team member might want to ask: How many changeovers are occurring, how many should occur in a normal day, and was maintenance needed to complete the changeover?
- The team leader tracks any issues on a jishuken worksheet that identifies what the problem is, what countermeasures should be taken, who is responsible for making the changes, and the date.
- The team leader meets with operators to discuss their findings and the changes implemented.
- Post the results in the general area, track the status of the changes, and continue to follow up with the countermeasures through the supervisor and the checklist.
The Food Bank For New York City is one of the country’s largest food banks. Their effort to reach the nearly 2.6 million New Yorkers who experience difficulty affording food does not go unnoticed. Some of the biggest corporate names have reached out to financially support the Food Bank including Bank of America, Disney, FedEx, the Yankees and many more, but Toyota decided to take another route. Instead of cash, Toyota donates what money couldn’t buy: efficiency.
Kaizen in Action
Rather than sign over a big check to the Food Bank, Toyota decided to step in and get their hands dirty. They offered up something that few in the food industry have ever heard of –Kaizen. The Food Bank was a little hesitant at first with the Toyota offer. But after presenting the Food Bank with the details of kaizen, the Food Bank for New York City was more than happy to hear what Toyota could do for them.
Kaizen is the Japanese term for continuous improvement which Toyota has mastered and made world famous in the manufacturing industry. The idea behind continual small improvements is that they eventually add up to larger benefits for both the company and the customer.The primary objective is to remove waste in all areas, while ensuring quality and safety at the same time. The end result — improved efficiency.
They make cars; I run a kitchen, this won’t work — Daryl Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank in Harlem, to the New York Times
The Food Bank helps provide 400,000 free meals a day for New Yorkers and the engineers from Toyota were determined to help make the process more efficient. Long lines of hungry people waiting for their next meal to the lengthy processing times for workers to fill food boxes was the target of Toyota’s attack when they first assessed the Food Bank’s operations.
Toyota Donates What Money Couldn’t Buy: Efficiency
The aftermath of the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) team’s work:
- Soup kitchen in Harlem- The average wait time for an individual to receive a meal in this particular kitchen was close to 90 minutes. After the TSSC team revised the kitchen and the process in which the customers were fed, the wait time was down to 18 minutes!
- Staten Island Food Pantry- The average time it took the workers there to fill a bag of food for donation was 11 minutes. After the TSSC team revised the process the workers were using the bags were filled on an average of 6 minutes!
- Warehouse in Brushwick, Brooklyn- Volunteers worked long hard days to fill boxes of food and supplies for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The average time it took before TSSC was 3 minutes, after 11 seconds!
The Toyota Difference
The Harlem Kitchen was by far the most significant number the TSSC team was able to reduce. The kitchen could hold up to 50 people at a time and would start dinner at 4 p.m. daily. Once all the chairs were full inside, a line would then start to form outside. When 10 chairs would open up, the staff would send in the next ten customers to eat. Again, the average wait time — 90 minutes!
“Toyota has revolutionized the way we serve our community” –Margarete Purvis, chief executive and president of the Food Bank to the The New York Times
Toyota made three big changes. The first was to eliminate the 10-at-a-time system. They allowed diners to come in one by one once a chair opened up for them. The second, was to allow diners to wait inside in a new waiting area where they would be closer to the food trays. Finally, a staff member was assigned to the floor to spot an empty seat, as it would open up they would call the next in line out. New average wait time –18 minutes!
Meals Per Hour
Toyota wasn’t done with the Food Bank yet. The company announced its Meals Per Hour campaign which was promoted through the use of a short documentary film (shown at the bottom). The company would donate one meal for every view the video received, up to 250,000. It didn’t take long for the film to go viral though. Shortly after release the video surpassed the original target goal and Toyota decided they could still do more.
The auto maker decided to step up and donate an additional one million meals in addition to the 250,000 meals they had already donated. The film currently has 1,014,408 views at this time.
Since 1992, TSSC has been helping companies and organizations around the country increase efficiencies, streamline processes, and better serve their customers with the Toyota Production System. They have recently launched a national campaign to support up to 20 community and non-profit organizations in using the TPS to help improve their operations, extend their reach and increase their impact.