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How does ‘8D’ problem-solving work?

A few people have asked me recently about ‘8D’, and I mentioned it in a previous blog without really explaining what I was on about, so I thought it was time to elaborate.

8D looks a bit like one of those smiley emoticons used in text messages, but it’s actually a structured, team-based approach to solving problems and taking corrective actions. It evolved out of Military Standards work in the 1940s and has been adopted by much of the automotive industry, especially Ford which has developed its own variant.

It isn’t just for automotive, by the way; many other businesses find it a valuable tool, especially when the causes of problems are not immediately obvious.

In 8D the team approach is emphasised, with different skills and parts of the business contributing their knowledge and skills to the process. D stands for Disciplines; this is how they work:

Discipline 1 – Form a team
Put together a small group of people with the experience, time, authority and skill to solve the problem and implement corrective actions. Make it cross-functional and ask the team to nominate a leader.

Discipline 2 – Describe the problem
Describe the problem as clearly as possible; be specific and objective – quantify it wherever possible. Describe the symptoms of the problem, the product or equipment or systems involved, the effect on the customer, the timing of the problem, its location, the quantity or frequency of occurrence, etc.

Discipline 3 – Contain the problem
A complete fix of the problem may take some time; until then, the patient could be metaphorically bleeding to death. So apply a temporary solution – a sticking plaster fix – to isolate and control the problem and prevent it affecting customers until the real problem is permanently cured.

Discipline 4 – Analyse the root cause
Identify all the potential causes of the problem; this will be a detective job as many causes will be hidden or counter-intuitive. Use brainstorming, cause and effect analysis or other techniques. Thoroughly test each potential cause against the evidence to eliminate the many false ones and arrive at the real ‘root’ cause (usually it’s just one; occasionally more).

Discipline 5 – Devise Corrective Actions
Now you know the root cause you can work out what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again. As with D4, use creativity-enhancing techniques to work out all the actions you might possibly take, then hone these down to the most effective ones. Then use analysis or testing to prove that the chosen Corrective Actions, if implemented, would fix the problem and have no unwanted side-effects.

Discipline 6 – Implement Corrective Actions
Implement the chosen actions and carefully monitor the results for any unwanted effects or recurrence of the original problem; if this happens, go back to Discipline 4 and repeat. Be thorough and self-critical as, when the end is in sight, it’s easy to see the world through rose-tinted glasses and not notice ‘inconvenient truths’!

Discipline 7 – Prevent recurrence
You may have fixed this specific problem, but could something similar happen again? Do some Preventive Action analysis to look at what else might go wrong. Look at everything related to the problem, including processes, management systems, working practices, documentation, training, etc, and try to make it all foolproof; FMEA and Poka-Yoke processes might help here (I’ll talk about these another time). Share your findings with others who may benefit from them.

Discipline 8 – Congratulate the team
To make this a sustainable process it is essential to give recognition to the team for their success. A little recognition from management can be hugely personally rewarding and will encourage others to follow the process.

By the way, you might find it useful to develop a standardised template to help manage this 8D process and record your findings and results.

Now, being an astute reader, you may be getting a feeling of déjà vu about 8D. You’d be right, it has many elements in common with Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act loop, continuous improvement, Six-Sigma and Kaizen, all of which I have talked about in other blogs. That doesn’t make it bad, or wrong, or not worthwhile of course!

With many of these approaches the devil is in the detail, and having an approach that is well thought through, appropriate to your business and culture, and thoroughly and enthusiastically administered makes the difference between a process that really works and one that is a waste of time.

The key is focusing on facts, following the process in a rigorous but not anally-retentive way, ‘closing the loop’ and verifying that the problem really has been solved, and recognising that the team can achieve more than its separate members on their own.

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