Whether it is Lean, Six Sigma or another discipline developed within the last 40 years, all include pathways within their methodologies and tools for finding and fixing root causes of problems within organizations. Without such tools for identifying these core problems and inefficiencies, any solutions will simply veer off process shortly after they are implemented if they even work at all.
8D problem solving, also referred to as the 8 Disciplines, was loosely based on military use from World War II forward as an attempt to address non-conforming materials. The 8 Disciplines was formalized as a business tool within Ford Motor Company in 1987 and has developed and been adopted by many companies seeking to identify and control the root cause of problems.
Today, the 8 Disciplines are used to help companies within manufacturing, companies looking to scale who want to build control and discipline into their organization and companies that have already experienced large growth cycles and seek to reign in problems associated with that growth.
Because 8D problem solving is effective in approving operational efficiencies, manufacturers have adopted it broadly to identify root causes. The need for the 8 Disciplines can be determined based on the type of problems being exhibited. The most common use is within organizations that exhibit a high degree of waste and scrap, or those who are suffering operational inefficiencies and poor performance within production.
8D problem solving may also be deployed as a response to customer relations issues. This may come about when there are many customer complaints or if the number of warranty issues such as returns and repairs have increased. It may also be implemented when compliance issues for safety and regulatory concerns are present.
Despite the emergence of methodologies designed to improve operational efficiencies, companies still struggle with process improvements, variation from procedures and other headaches. However, the key word here is “discipline”. Developing discipline to identify and control problems over time is formalized within the 8 Disciplines to help companies develop overall discipline to adhere to a process when looking at root cause. As such, 8D problem solving is complementary to methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma. Here are the 8 Disciplines and how to deploy them:
1. Form the Team – Any company can throw together a team and throw that team at a problem. However, properly selecting the team members is critical to 8D success. The kind of problem and its reach within the organization will determine the team members. If it is purely a production issue, then perhaps the team will consist of mostly production managers and perhaps engineers. However, if it impacts design, inventory, finance, delivery or other areas, the team will need to include members from those disciplines as well. A well-built team will have a better chance of identifying the root cause and will stay on plan
2. Define the Problem – Many problems in manufacturing are assumed to be presumptive or intuitive. Everyone “knows” the reasons. But actual root causes may run deeper and may encompass more areas within and outside of manufacturing than are realized. Defining the problem requires gathering data and completely mapping out and describing the problems and all its variables. This information gathering may include direct observation, data analysis or even tools from other disciplines such as Gemba walks to identify all variables. And it may also require the use of “Is/Is-Not” data to narrow down possibilities.
3. Containment – Some problems may require a short-term solution in the interim to isolate it and address it remedially until the permanent root cause can be determined and a course of action determines. This may include additional quality checks, testing or approvals during the production process. This isolates the issue from the customer and “stops the bleeding” so to speak. The caveat is that these interim solutions are often expensive and should only be sued while the team continues to identify the root cause and formulate a permanent solution.
4. Determine, Identify and Verify Root Cause – With the problem properly defined and the interim solution mitigating concerns short term, the team can focus on identifying the deeper causes. This will include all the reasons why the problem has concerned as well as identifying the reasons it was not noticed or was intentionally not addressed. The 5 Why’s can be used during this stage to help narrow the causes down and arrive at the correct reasons.
5. Analyze and Select Corrective Actions - With causes identified, the team can now proceed with crafting the appropriate solution. At this stage, small-scale tests or “pilot” programs can be used to measure success of the solution. The team can use brainstorming sessions as the test results become available to improve the solution or design a better one. Keep in mind that problems may be very complex with a lot of “moving parts”. There may also be a deluge of data or the solution may require broad consensus if it is far-reaching across areas outside of production. Affinity diagrams can be used at this stage to organize large data sets, formalize verbal data from surveys or interviews build ideational relationships.
6. Implement and Verify Corrective Action – Once the solution has been designed and tested, it can be implemented broadly within the appropriate areas. However, caution should be used to ensure that the first five steps have been used correctly, jumping to the sixth step without proper advancement of the previous disciplines will guarantee failure. As the solution is implemented, results should be meticulously checked to ensure that they are working as planned. One way to do this is through use of PDCA at this stage. PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is a change model and can be repeated until the desired result is achieved. It narrows and refines the solution and helps chart a course for continuous improvement.
7. Implement Preventive Actions – For a root cause solution to be sustainable, preventive measures should be taken to identify process veer and keep the solution on track. Management and operations systems must be updated. It also requires that processes, procedures and work instructions be updated as well to eliminate old elements of the cause as well as install new audit and monitoring to keep it on track.
8. Recognize the Team – The identification of root causes is best accomplished using a well-constructed team who has the expertise and experience to address the problem. In most companies, the correction of such root causes can save significant dollars in cost and improve brand loyalty and reputation. Recognizing the team builds upon the core changes and encourages future success in additional 8D projects. Recognition also builds trust and helps increase ownership of core job responsibilities among the team and throughout the organization.
8D problem solving can be used with many other tools to develop a comprehensive structure for problem solving within organizations. This structure can be used over and over and can improve the effectiveness of problem solving. It allows management to understand problems better, and it improves front line managers and others’ ability to implement corrective action and builds better communication and trust within the organization overall.