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QC Story offers relevant problem-solving advice

In the last column, we discussed the first three steps of a systematic problem-solving approach called the QC Story.

Today's column will finish the description of this useful tool.

Take action that will eliminate the main causes. Once the cause has been identified and proven, this step is relatively easy. Use data to evaluate several possible solutions to the problem. Take care to remove causes and not just symptoms of the problem.

Care should also be taken so that the solution does not have detrimental side effects on this process or any other parts of the organization.

Study the results. Data should be collected to check the effectiveness of the action taken. Compare the situations before and after. If the results of the action are not what was desired, first determine if the action was implemented as planned.

If the solution was implemented as planned, but the results are undesirable, it is necessary to test a different solution.

Standardize on the new method. After the desired results are achieved, develop a new standard and communicate it to everyone involved in the process. Provide training and devise a check system to observe compliance with the new standards.

Document the conclusion. Review the problem-solving procedure and identify what was learned. Note what worked well in the improvement process and what did not so others can learn for the future.

The final action is to redraw the flow chart of the process reflecting the changes and comparing the flow chart to the version done before the problem-solving action. Hopefully it is simpler as well as more effective.

This may sound complex at first but after you have gone through it a few times, it is fairly simple and valuable. A dramatic example of application of this process was revealed to me on a trip to Japan twenty years ago.

The world headquarters of Canon, Inc., a large manufacturer of cameras, copiers, and printers, is a beautiful building with a large and impressive lobby.

But, I felt the display of data in chart forms in various places about the lobby were distracting. I studied them and found they were QC Stories about problems they were experiencing and progress they were making in solving those problems.

When my host met me, I asked him why they were airing their dirty linen in front of the public like that and he said, "Oh, we get many good ideas from our visitors."

Thinking about it; most of their visitors are probably customers or suppliers who have a vested interest and knowledge to contribute to solve those problems. They knew all organizations have problems and there is no stigma with that as long as progress is made to solve the problems. They were not embarrassed to get help from wherever they might obtain it.

So when we have problems, it is important we make progress in solving them. A systematic approach like this seven step process is indeed helpful.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@processmanagement. com.