Companies encouraged to adopt systematic approach to problem solving

Shannon Chamber’s Mid-West Lean Network’s 2022 series of workshops got underway this week with a webinar addressing the issue of problem solving in organisations and examining what one company, Modular Automation, is doing to systemise the process.

During this webinar, Modular Automation’s principal applications engineer Colm O’Connor, in an interview with Crystal Lean Solution’s Maria Ryan, outlined why the company decided to introduce a more systematic approach to problem solving, the approach adopted, and the benefits derived from doing so.

For a company that provides complex bespoke automation solutions, build to print equipment and equipment contract manufacturing to med tech clients across Europe and the US, solving customers’ problems is Modular Automation’s business. However, it is not immune to meeting internal technical problems as it designs and develops these complex solutions for its customers, hence the decision to put structure on this process.

“Finding the direct cause of a problem can be easy; identifying its root cause is more difficult but that is where the quality of the solution lies and where cost and time savings are gained,” stated O’Connor.

Outlining how the company reached the point where it now has a documented process for problem solving in place, people and mentors in all departments trained to use rapid problem-solving tools, O’Connor urged webinar attendees to examine the level of problem solving required in their organisations before developing a framework to guide employees through the process.

“We now have a six-step process for problem solving which involves defining the problem, determining the root cause, generating alternative solutions, selecting a solution, implementing the solution, and evaluating the outcome. We have found this rapid problem-solving methodology ideal for our company as ninety-nine per cent of problems in our business will be at that level,” he said.

Crystal Lean Solutions’ Maria Ryan, who has worked closely with the Modular Automation team to bring them to this point, was fulsome in her praise for their achievements.

“The team analysed the options available for problem solving at the level they required, they picked what suited their business best, they spent time brainstorming, attained consistency though getting people used to working with the tools and most importantly, they selected influential people in the company to drive the change. They now have a structured thought process for solving problems and records for reference purposes, which also gives their customers confidence,” she said.

The Mid-West Lean Network’s new chair, Analog Devices’ quality engineer Gavin Sheehan endorsed the benefits of having standardised templates for problem solving: “If the problem escalates, everyone knows the template, can act swiftly and save time and expense.”

Enterprise Ireland’s senior lean advisor, speaking as a supporter of the Network, said that the shared learning gained through the workshops was extremely beneficial.

“The uptake of lean, which is enabling businesses to grow, be sustainable and competitive, is increasing across all sectors,” he said.

Advising companies to avail of the funding available from Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices to support lean in enterprise, he said the benefits of continuous improvement are manifold, not least the engagement and cultural change it introduces into a company.”

To find out more about the Mid-West Lean Network or to join the Network, check out The Network, which is industry-led, is supported by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.