Comparison of Three Analytic Problem-solving techniques
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of defined techniques to use when analyzing and resolving problems. Not every problem-solving technique is useful for every situation; a specific technique may best be used in a team vs. an individual situation, or lend itself more to creative instead of systematic forms of resolution. This article compares three common techniques and provides a framework on the key aspects and best usage of each.
PDCA – Plan, Do, Check, Act
PDCA may also sometimes be referred to as the Deming cycle or Deming Wheel. While popularized by Walter Deming, it was originally developed by Walter Shewhart and is also sometimes referred to as the Shewhart Cycle. It encourages a methodical approach to problem solving, and is normally represented by a circle to represent the need for repetition and continuous improvement. It requires a clear definition of the problem or root cause you are trying to analyze (it may be beneficial to use cause and effect or 5 Why analysis for this definition).
When to use?
PDCA is often used in continuous improvement or Kaizen programs and repetitive work processes, as a key idea is identifying improvements for the creation of a standard, repeatable process. PDCA can be valuable when the consequence of taking wrong actions is significant, and a pilot approach that examines a large range of possibilities often makes sense to incorporate feedback before going to a larger scale. It can help avoid the waste associated with a full-scale implementation that may later have to be revamped or reworked. The four components are:
- Plan: recognize an opportunity and plan the change; correctly identify and analyze the true problem to be solved. Tools that might be used at this phase include brainstorming, Pareto analysis or cause and effect diagrams.
- Do: test the change using a small-scale study, experiment or process; develop and test one or more potential solutions. The selection of the best alternative is made from the set of possible solutions. This phase uses a contained pilot approach to evaluate effectiveness before rolling out to a larger audience and implies the outcome as a test, not a full implementation as in the Act step. A key idea is that the pilot or small scale approach minimizes risk to the business. A tool that may be used at this phase is experiment design.
- Check: review the results from the selected alternative and compile lessons learned; measure the effectiveness of the solution and how it could be improved. This may result in repeating the Do and Check steps several times. Identify any new problems that have come up, and analyze the results of unintended consequences. When no more significant learnings appear possible, go on to the Act phase. Tools that might be used at this phase include KPIs, 5 Why analysis and control charts.
- Act: take actions based on the learnings from the Check step and make the changes part of the routine work process. If the application of the learnings is not effective, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If it did work, go through the cycle again with a larger group or process (implement fully) and make sure all affected stakeholders are identified and receive communications. If part of a continuous improvement project, go back to the Plan phase and work through cycle again. Tools that might be used at this phase include standard process mapping and the development of training programs.
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