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8 Steps to

Problem Solving
A guide to standardizing problem solving
in a Lean environment
Problem Solving at Toyota

Ask anyone who’s worked as a manager and they’ll tell you that the thing they
look for when the hire anyone—from custodian to CFO—is the ability to problem
solve quickly and efficiently. Problem solving is a crucial trait to any successful
and productive business, but the path toward a solution isn’t always clear.

It’s exactly for this reason that Toyota established their 8 steps to practical
problem solving. Rather than leaving it to each team member to come up with
a new way to find a solution every time a problem arises, the Toyota problem-
solving method standardizes the solution-finding process.

Toyota’s 8 Steps to Problem Solving is simple, rooted in Lean manufacturing


principles, and can help companies boost already-established Kaizen practices.

The process uses concrete, trackable things that can actively lead to a
measured, realistic solutions to all problems, both big and small.

Here are some of the things the 8 Steps use to find solutions:

• Facts—Looking at the unmovable facts about your


industry, production capacities, etc. help form a realistic
parameter for expectations and possible solutions

• Data—This process, like many other Lean manufacturing


concepts, requires that you collect and analyze data to
better pinpoint problems

• Experience—The 8 Steps process depends on experience


from everyone—management on down to line workers—
To understand issues and make improvements

• Common sense—This one shouldn’t come as a surprise

All of the above resources act as the clay from which teams are able to mold a
reasonable, sustainable solution to the problem at hand.

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1. What’s the problem, anyway?

It’s important to get to the root of issue. Make sure that your organization
takes on one specific issue at a time. Use specific questions to help find a
path to the problem.

Not productive:
“Our quality control stinks!”

Productive:
“Our product is deviating from our
standards regularly”

“There’s a gap between the actual


condition and the desired condition of
our product”

“We aren’t meeting our customer needs


with regard to _____”

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2. Break down the problem

Now that we’ve identified the larger problem, it’s time to understand
the issue fully.

With your team, discuss:

• Why this is a problem

• What the benefits will look like


once you solve the problem

Learn more about Gemba


• How this problem fits into the and problem solving with
business as a whole and its effect this free guide.
on current goals and strategies
Free Gemba Guide

Go to the Gemba

For the unfamiliar, Gemba is a Japanese


term often used in Lean manufacturing. It
translates to “the actual place,” and in Lean,
that means getting out of the office and
heading to the place where the product is
made. When you see the process for yourself,
you get a better sense of where things could
be improved to help solve the problem.

Once you’ve seen “the actual place,” you’ll


have a strong sense of the specifics of the
problem: what it is, why it’s happening, and
how to track it. Once you’re able to study and
analyze the data surrounding the problem,
you’ll have a good idea as to how to fix it.
Prioritize efforts based on the results.

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3. Set your target

This is the step where you take a frank, realistic look at what needs to happen
to fix the problem. Setting realistic goals means you’re committed to making
the change and have a practical understanding of what can actually be
accomplished in the targeted timeframe.

• Set the goal.

• Outline the steps needed to get


the job done.

• Map out a realistic timeline, then


share that with your team. This
holds everyone accountable and
ensures actions will be taken.

• Allow opportunities for success.


Our Resource Center has a Give teams time apart from
wealth of knowledge to help
normal responsibilities to work
implement your problem
solving plan and keep it on toward goals, and give workers
the timeline. kudos when you see them
working toward progress.
Resource Center

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4. Analyze the root cause

This step requires an objective, critical analysis of the problem. The problem
was identified when you did your Gemba walk; now it’s time to address any and
all root causes.

Tools for finding root causes

If you need help pinpointing precisely where the problem is in your facility, there
are a number of Lean tools that can help you sniff out exactly where issues start.

Value Stream Mapping—


a process that maps all the
steps involved in making
a product. It reveals where
waste occurs.

Overall Equipment
Effectiveness (OEE)—
A calculation formula for
assessing how productive
a facility is on a day
to
day basis.

5 Whys— Usually used in


the Analyze phase of Six
Sigma, this strategy of
asking “Why?” five times
helps get to the root cause
of production problems.

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5. Develop countermeasures

Now that you’ve gotten to the root of


the issue, it’s important to take action.
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• Teams should develop countermeasures to remove root causes.

• Develop as many countermeasure options as possible to directly


address root causes.

• Narrow down to most practical and effective countermeasures


based off your target.

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6. Implement changes

Now that you’ve developed countermeasures, here comes the hard part:
implementing these new processes in a sustainable and effective way.

Here are some tips to help your organization get started:

• See countermeasures through with clear detailed plans


that include timeline goals.

• Communicate with teams often to ensure progress is being made.

• Easy does it—focus on one countermeasure at a time.

• Don’t get discouraged by growing pains. Mistakes happen!

• Persistence is the key to success.

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7. Monitor Results and Process

Lean manufacturing values two things


over everything else: data collection and
the drive to keep improving. As such,
continuation of data collection is paramount
to the successful completion of Toyota’s
Keep track of progress and
8 Steps to Problem Solving. After all, sustain efforts to improve with
some countermeasures might require this free 5S Audit Scorecard.
more than one attempt to get things right;
monitoring results helps in knowing when a 5S Audit Scorecard
countermeasure needs more adjusting.

A few tips for the 7th step:

• Determine if the intended outcome was result of a countermeasure


or a fluke.

• There’s always room for improvement in the process. Build data


collecting into the process so your team can detect the places for
growth right away.

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8. Standardize and share success

At this point in the process, you should’ve found a viable solution to whatever
issue you decided to tackle. What next? The important next step is to ensure
that this solution stays in place so that the problem doesn’t return after a
couple of weeks. This is where standardization comes in.

Keys to 8:

• Share results with organization. Good results reaffirm the


importance of their work, and inspires them to keep improvement.

• Reflect on what you’ve learned. This type of processing helps your


team improve their problem-solving skills.

• Get back to work. Use the 8 Steps to address all unresolved issues,
one at a time.

Remember: continuous improvement never stops. Keep grinding. Keep


problem-solving. Keep working toward making your facility more productive
and efficient. The results will be amazing.

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