Problem Solving Methods

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The diagram “Time Line of Modern Problem Solving” depicts some of the key milestones that have led to the processes used for problem solving in organisations today. A comprehensive understanding of this history is described from pages 11-33.

It is possible to trace the strands of the modern problem solving approaches we are familiar with in the lean movement. A five step problem solving method was originally taught in Japan as part of a course called The Fundamentals of Industrial Management by Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman. Deming’s modified Shewart cycle – known as the Deming Wheel was taken and developed by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE.) JUSE was key in the dissemination of problem solving processes under the guidance of Ichiro and Kaoru Ishikawa. In 1951 JUSE created the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle which we know as PDCA. Despite Deming’s objections to the modification, this has become the dominant form of the Deming cycle today. They also invited Juran to Japan to give lectures in 1954.

Another key strand are the Training Within Industry (TWI) courses. Initially the 3J courses were taught, but in 1955, TWI Problem Solving was developed. The process outlined four basic steps of problem solving in the TWI framework to help train people, improve work methods and resolve problems in a structured way:

1Isolate the problem
2Prepare for solution
3Correct the problem
4Check and evaluate the results

In the 1960’s, various 6-step approaches were created. These can be summarised as follows:

Six Step Method:

1Define the problem
2Determine the goal
3Identify the root cause
4Implement countermeasures
5Check results
6Follow up & standardise

In the 1960’s and 70’s the concept of “kaizen” emerged in Japan. Its literal translation means “change for the better.” Different from structured problem solving and gap from standard situations, kaizen asks “How can the current standard or condition be improved upon?” Kaizen is not bound by the rules of root cause analysis thinking – it is more open ended. Processes are observed and considered for improvement.

You can read more about problem solving methods in Art Smalley’s excellent book “Four Types of Problems” available in our Book Store here.

We think problem solving is so important, we’ve prioritised it as our first offer on our Lean Learning Journey platform which contains both free and paid content. Here’s a sneak peak of some of the free content relating to problem solving coming soon: