Quality Progress - May 2013 - 48
BY RogeR W. HoeRl
and Ronald d. Snee
one Size does not Fit all
Identifying the right improvement methodology
THE NEED TO improve is ever present in
install a new computer system. We assign a
The problem is categorized into one
all endeavors and will continue to be so.
project manager to implement the solution.
of four quadrants in the matrix that helps
We live in a dynamic world. As predicted
Knowing the problem solution does not
identify the best solution method. Note that
in the second law of thermodynamic and
mean the solution is easy or unimportant.
the listed methods are illustrative, but not
entropy, the world will continue to change.
For example, a person might know why
exhaustive; other methods could be added.
This change produces a need for improve-
he or she is overweight, and what must be
Let’s look at some examples that illustrate
ment; we have learned that if left alone,
done about it. Keeping weight off is not
how the matrix is used.
things get worse—not better.
easy, however. A key question is, “How?”
Lean Six Sigma is generally considered
to be the best available approach to im-
That is, “How to implement solution?”
If the solution is unknown, we don’t
Case 1. Last year, we presented a case
study in which a company that manufactures flushable baby wipes found that its
provement: true for a lot of problems, but
know why we have this problem. The key
product was clogging septic systems.4
not all problems. In improvement, one size
question is, “Why?” That is, “Why is this
Obviously, this was a serious problem
does not fit all. We have argued a holistic
problem occurring, or what is the root
for the company, but was also clearly a
improvement approach is needed, with the
cause?” Here, a problem-solving approach
special cause: This hadn’t happened in the
four critical building blocks being: leader-
and mindset is needed.
past and occurred suddenly. This sug-
ship, top talent, infrastructure and holistic
Both kinds of problems are impor-
gested that the problem had relatively low
improvement method,1-3, meaning it can
tant to the success of an organization’s
complexity. However, the solution and the
handle any problem.
improvement initiatives. In fact, a blend of
root cause were unknown.
The problem, of course, should define
solution-known and unknown problems
This placed the problem in quadrant
the improvement method. To help get to the
is the rule rather than the exception. The
two. The company chose a team problem-
principal difference is that approaches to
solving approach, using techniques such
discover the best solution are needed in
as brainstorming, Pareto charts and run
charts. The root causes and appropriate
solutions were found using these basic
tools, resolving the problem and returning
Another critical consideration is the com-
the process to normal.
plexity of the problem. Problems with low
Case 2. One of this column’s authors
complexity are typically isolated prob-
was once asked by an IT professional
lems: problems involving a special cause.
to help him on his Six Sigma project. It
The important question here is, “What
turned out that he wanted to install an
went wrong?” You find the root cause, fix
Oracle relational database to replace a
it and return to normal.
manual system. The author asked him
Problems with high complexity typi-
whether he had done this before, and he
correct characterization of the problem, it
cally involve the entire system and involve
replied yes. So the author asked the IT
is helpful to evaluate two critical variables:
working on common-cause variation:
professional whether he felt he knew how
whether the solution to the problem is
There’s no special cause to fix. Here, an
to do this, and again he said yes.
known and the complexity of the problem.
improvement approach such as lean Six
When presented with a need to im-
Sigma may be appropriate.
Looking at the matrix, this was clearly
a solution-known problem. Even though he
prove, the first question we must ask our-
Taken together, these two variables
had done it before, the problem had high
selves is whether we know the solution to
create a matrix (see Figure 1) that is help-
complexity because it could easily be mis-
the problem. Examples of a solution-known
ful in identifying an appropriate problem-
managed with serious consequences. Also,
problem might be to pave the parking lot or
the details of how to deploy the database
48 QP • www.qualityprogress.com
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Quality Progress - May 2013
Mr. Pareto Head
Avoiding an Avalanche
What Makes You Tick?
Quality in the First Person
Special Section: ASQ Enterprise and Site Members
3.4 per Million
One Good Idea
One Good Idea
Quality Progress - May 2013