In this post of my series on the Toyota Practical Problem Solving (PPS), we finally get to the part many were excitedly waiting for—the development of countermeasures and their implementation. Some people like this part of actually doing the improvement (and hence finally the “Do” part of PDCA) so much that they skip the “Plan” part almost entirely. Don’t do that! Properly prepare and analyze before implementing a countermeasure. Without the plan, the countermeasure may be flawed.
A Quick Recap
- Clarify the Problem
- Break Down the Problem
- Set a Target
- Root-Cause Analysis
- Develop Countermeasures and Implement
- Monitor Process and Results
- Standardize and Share
Develop Countermeasures and Implement
The task is to develop countermeasures and to implement them. The countermeasures to resolve the problem (or at least to make the problem less common or less damaging) should be based on the root cause. If you have multiple root causes, you may need multiple countermeasures for each of your root causes. Even if you have only one root cause, you may still consider and investigate multiple countermeasures. Look at all possible options that could influence your root cause. Since this is a bit more complex, I have divided it into subsections on developing multiple countermeasures, selecting the most promising countermeasures, and finally implementing them.
Developing Multiple Countermeasures
Developing, or at least considering, multiple countermeasures is actually quite common at Toyota. In the West, the first solution is often followed through, no matter how good the solution actually is. At Toyota, they often consider multiple solutions and compare them.
For example, when Toyota developed the first commercially successful gasoline-electric hybrid, the Prius, they developed around eighty initial concepts for an ultra-low-fuel consumption car. This included everything from fully electric vehicles, to fuel cells, to diesel engines. These eighty concepts were then evaluated and narrowed down to thirty, which were studied further. From these thirty concepts under closer evaluation, the best ten were chosen and studied even more. Out of these ten, a list of the top three promising concepts were selected, and even more research and effort was put in to understanding and developing these three even further. The final winner in the last round was a gasoline-electric hybrid power plant for the Prius.
Hence, let your creativity run wild and think of anything you can that could improve the root cause for your problem. Don’t worry too much about the feasibility (yet), since this will be looked at during the next step. Similar to brainstorming, there are no bad ideas, as any idea with not-so-much potential could be an inspiration for an even better idea. More is clearly better here. Do this for all of your root causes.
Hopefully you have more than one countermeasure for every one of these root causes you identified. If you have multiple root causes, some countermeasures may impact only one root cause, while other countermeasures impact multiple root causes. Now you need to pick which root causes you actually want to implement.
You may not need to look at eighty different possible solutions to resolve your root cause. But you should definitely take more than one solution under consideration. Look at multiple ideas on how to resolve the root cause, compare them, and pick the most promising ones for implementation. When comparing different solutions, you should consider how effective the solution will address your root cause(s), but you should also consider factors like safety, quality, productivity, cost, timing, and the ease of implementation, as well as its impact on other functions. It is probably best to make a table here with one row for every countermeasure and one column for these performance parameters.
Also, do not to get sidetracked to implement something completely different just because it is a nice idea; instead, make sure that your possible actions do improve the root cause! Additionally, try to see it from the view of different stakeholders, answering the question “What is in it for me?” from the point of view of the customer, company, employee, and also yourself. For the Prius, they went with a single final and most promising concept, as they wanted to design only one car model. For your problem-solving, you could implement multiple solutions.
You could theoretically implement all selected solutions at once. However, Toyota prefers to implement them one by one to see how much of an impact each solution has on the root cause. There are obvious exceptions when, for example, combining two root causes will significantly reduce the cost (e.g., buying a new machine that has two features/solutions at the same time). But just being faster is not necessarily a good cause for merging the implementation of your solutions. Especially for organizational changes (which are common in lean), you could make a trial period to try it out in order to evaluate its effectiveness and feasibility.
It is really helpful to also build a consensus here, including employees, management, and other impacted departments. This will greatly improve the acceptance of your countermeasures. But if you did the right thing and already involved these stakeholders while clarifying the problem, breaking down the problem, setting a target, doing the root cause analysis, developing countermeasures, and evaluating them, then these stakeholders should already be on board and supportive of your plans. Also consider who has to be informed and who has to approve.
Based on this, you should create a plan for which solution to implement or try out first (probably the most-promising one/highest-value-adding one unless there are other reasons not to), which one second, and so on. For each you should decide what needs to be done by whom and by when.
And then, finally, just do it! Follow through with your plan and implement or at least test these countermeasures. In my next post we will look at the “Check” and “Act” parts of PDCA, where we monitor the process and results as well as standardize and share the learning. Now, go out, do something about your problems (preferably the right thing after a thorough “plan” of PDCA), and organize your industry!
PS: Many thanks to the team from the Toyota Lean Management Centre at the Toyota UK Deeside engine plant in Wales, where I participated in their 5-day course. This course gave us a lot of access to the Toyota shop floor, and we spent hours on the shop floor looking at processes. In my view, this the only generally accessible course by Toyota that gives such a level of shop floor involvement.