Practical Problem Solving

Problem solving, as a concept, seems relatively simple on the surface: you define a problem, determine the cause, then identify and implement a solution. However, without a problem solving system in place, there’s a lot of room for waste.

A standard problem solving approach allows organizations to avoid wasting time on debates and discussion by providing a uniform definition for what is (and isn’t) a problem alongside a series of steps for solving issues as they emerge.

Practical Problem Solving (PPS) is an eight-step process for implementing the incremental improvements characteristic of any Lean management program.

Here’s a brief look at Practical Problem Solving and what this fundamental Lean concept entails.

What Is Practical Problem Solving?

Practical Problem Solving is both a process and a skill that you develop over time to solve problems quickly and achieve goals. This process provides teams with a framework for solving problems, allowing them to quickly define, diagnose, and resolve issues.

Additionally, because this process involves root cause analysis, follow-up, and standardization, organizations can ensure that problems don’t reoccur.

Practical Problem Solving Definition

In Lean, the Practical Problem Solving method represents a systematic approach to solving problems big and small within your organization. It’s essential for creating a common understanding of what qualifies as a problem, as well as what steps should be taken in order to solve the problem efficiently and effectively.

Practical Problem Solving depends on a unified understanding of what a problem is. In the context of Lean, problems are defined as anything that deviates from the standard, a gap between the current and desired state, or a consumer need that isn’t being met.

What Are the 8 Steps to Practical Problem Solving?

  1. Clarify the Problem. The first step is to identify what the problem is. Here, you’ll describe the current situation—what standard or expectation has been violated?
  2. Break Down the Problem. Next, you’ll want to break the problem into a series of smaller, more specific problems to make the process more manageable.
  3. Set a Target. Once you’ve scoped out the problem, the next step is to set targets: what do you hope to achieve? How will you measure success?
  4. Analyze Root Cause. The next step is to perform a root cause analysis.
  5. Develop Countermeasures. Once you’ve identified the root cause, you’ll want to make a plan that involves pursuing multiple countermeasures.
  6. See Those Countermeasures Through. Then, you’ll want to work through those countermeasures quickly as a team.
  7. Evaluate the Process and Results. After implementing countermeasures, you’ll want to follow-up on those efforts to determine whether you’ve successfully solved the problem.
  8. Standardize Success and Learn from Failures. The final step involves standardizing the successful processes and recording findings from any failures. Both activities can be used to inform future problem solving efforts.

How to Practice Practical Problem Solving

You might assume that the best way to get started with the Practical Problem Solving process is to identify a “big, vague problem,” then start walking through each of the eight steps one by one.

While that’s certainly one way you might go about introducing PPS to your team, that approach isn’t always feasible. Here are some additional ideas for implementing what you’ve learned.

  • Create strong statements. Practice creating strong problem statements. You can also review problem statements you’ve used in the past.
  • Compare and Align. If your organization is currently using a different method or approach for solving problems, you’ll want to compare the steps in your existing process to the eight steps outlined in the PPS process.
    • You might find that they’re calling “root cause analysis” something else—but this process still represents “step four.”
    • In that case, you can look back at how well you did with the past three steps: identifying the problem, breaking it down, then setting targets.
  • Reflect. Reflect on what went well and share some feedback on what could be improved.

Gemba Academy’s Practical Problem Solving course is led by Lean expert Ron Pereira, who will walk you through each of the eight steps outlined above. You’ll also learn how to use tools like scatter plots, Pareto charts, and control charts. To learn more about the course material, you can watch the first installment for free.


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