When it comes to problem-solving activities in plants and how to go about them, the typical engineering-oriented approach tends to be very rigorous and detailed, with the objective of getting to the absolute correct technical solution.

While this level of rigor seems perhaps commendable, the question to ask is, “What is the value of taking extended time to rigorously solve a single issue if the majority of the attendees don’t see any way that they can apply such a process to the frequent issues they must deal with?”

The rigorous approach is great when you’re working with left-brain-dominant engineers, but it is not for everyone. Of course, to be realistic, there are many problems that need a very rigorous process. However, what we’re actually trying to do in the majority of these plant exercises is:

  • Get people to realize the value in gathering enough accurate information to understand an issue before coming up with solutions.
  • Get them excited about somewhat systematically coming up with solutions to problems as a group, valuing different perspectives and input.
  • Have them take the initiative to put the solutions in place with the communication and commitment needed.

Even if it’s not exactly the right answer, it’s at least an effort to make an improvement over what was in place before. Some learning came from the exercise, and the next effort will be better. The important thing is that you’re developing ownership. It’s about getting people out of the “just show up and do what you’re told” mode. That’s the big piece in continuing to get ongoing improvement.

Most problems in plants are just not that difficult. Many issues tend to come back to lack of equipment care, lack of knowledge and basic processes. It’s not normally tied to some fundamental design deficiency in equipment.

Identifying the causes and solutions is the easy part. Getting the communication, involvement and commitment to get the solutions bought into and actually implemented in a timely manner is the bigger problem. This is also the essential part, so people don’t give up, and you can build on the enthusiasm.

About the Author

Currently working as a consultant, John Crossan retired after spending 30-plus years with the Clorox Company. His roles for much of the past 14 years were mainly focused on improving operations by fostering the installation and ongoing implementation of basic manufacturing and maintenance procedural mechanisms across 30 varied plants in the U.S. and Canada. Prior to Clorox, John also held operational and engineering roles with Johnson & Johnson and the Burndy Corporation. He can be reached via e-mail at john@johncrossan.com or online at www.johncrossan.com.