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Strategic Selection of Problem-Solving Methodologies (PSMs)

To Gain Lean Production System

Roxana Nazaripooya
Department of Quality Tools and Integration, General Manager,
Iran Khodro Company, Iran

In a complicated industry like what we have in Car manufacturing industry, huge numbers of problems
are raised and must be solved to reach lean objectives (at least Quality, Cost, Delivery time objectives).
Year by year bunch of new problem solving mythologies are raised and applied for industrial problems.
In selecting a problem solving methodology for specified problem, one must be very careful. Because a
complicated problem solving methodology for a simple problem (using a sledgehammer to crack a nut) is
costly and time consuming (Muda of inappropriate processing) and may be because of its complexity time
taking, the simple problem remains unsolved. In this paper, it is tried to propose some strategic ways for
choosing problem solving methods and by this way eliminate Muda of bad selection of problem solving
methodology and make applied problem solving methods more efficient and effective.

Key words : Problem solving Framework, lean problem solving, lean production , problem complexity,
Problem structure, problem Dynamicity


In everyday world, where people live and work, Improvement and learning is Omnipresent and essential
to survival, let alone progress. In homes, businesses, organizations, and societies in every culture,
improvement and learning is driven by problems that need solving. How do I pay for a new car? Which
schools should my children attend? How do we design a new marketing campaign to address a target
market? Where to establish organizational priorities? How to confront an employee who did not report to
work? Which strategy the department should pursue over the next two years? How to increase
productivity? And in a lean production system, how we can reach our targets in Quality, Cost and
Delivery? Indeed, solving problems takes up a major portion of our time and energies each day. Some
problems are fairly routine and easily solved. Others are complex and less easily defined and handled.
Our lives are filled with, and frequently complicated by, the need to solve problems.

The cost of poor problem solving is probably beyond estimate. One government official was heard to
comment that poor problem solving probably reduces the Gross National Product by billions of dollars
each year. The penalties of ineffective problem solving surround us. Penalties to the organization show up
in forfeited sales, inept services, lost customers, inefficient production, and inadequate utilization of
people, wasted time, and so forth. The costs to the individual include frustration, morale problems,
reduced work output, diminished career potential, and demotivation. It becomes obvious that from a
materials, services, and personnel standpoint, the effects of poor problem solving have a far-reaching
impact upon the organization.

Modern life in nearly every context presents a deluge of problems that demand solutions, to fill the gap
between real situation and ideal situation. And this is of course noticeable that these problems are
differently structured, we have always a different time limitation to solve them and they can be different
in many different aspects. As it explained problem solving is time and resource consuming process, and if
it is done badly it can make a disaster, which means cost (in different amounts) for a person or a company
and may be it can threat the survival, it’s really mandatory to be careful about the PROVLEM SOLVING
METHOD that we chose. Based on different type of problems, different type of problem solving methods
must be applied. If a problem and its selected solving method were harmonized, lean concept will happen
based on eliminating wastes of bad problem solving.

What Are Problems, and How Do They Vary?

What is a problem? There are at least two critical attributes in my definition of a problem. First, a
problem is an unknown entity in some context (the difference between a goal state and a current state).
Second, finding or solving for the unknown must have some social, cultural, or intellectual value. That is,
Someone believes that it is worth finding the unknown. If no one perceives an unknown or a need to
determine an unknown, there is no perceived problem.
There are a number of variable attributes of problems. Problems vary in knowledge needed to solve them,
the form they appear in, and the processes needed to solve them. The problems themselves also vary

considerably, from simple addition problems in elementary school to complex social-cultural political
problems. Intellectually, problems vary in different ways, mainly: domain specificity or abstractness,
complexity, structuredness and dynamicity. Of course these variables are not independent and some of
them have interrelations which we will consider. As we emphasized before, based on different type of
problems, a coherent type of problem solving methods must be applied.

° Domain (Context) Specificity/Abstractness

Most contemporary research and theory in problem solving claims that problem solving skills are domain
and context specific and mainly concerns with improving present situation (present systems, process or
products) . That is, problem-solving activities are situated, embedded, and therefore dependent on the
nature of the context or domain knowledge. Mathematicians solve problems differently from engineers,
who solve problems differently from political scientists. Problems in one organizational context are
solved differently than they are in another context. Problems at IBM are solved differently from those at
Hewlett-Packard. They have different organizational structures, different cultures, and different
sociological mixes, all of which affect the kinds of problems that arise and how they are solved, and even
in one manufacturing company, production experts face problems differently comparing to strategy or
marketing experts.
Sometimes Problems are not related only to a specific context, these kinds of problems are mainly
concerns with developing new systems, product or services. They tend to be more abstract at the
In sum, problems within a domain or context vary in terms of their structuredness, complexity, and
dynamicity, but all problems vary also along another dimension between domains(more specific) or
contexts (more abstract).

° Structuredness
Problems within domains and between domains vary in terms of how well structured they are. Jonassen
(1997) described problems on a continuum from well structured to ill structure (chaotic). Well-structured
problems require the application of a limited and known number of concepts, rules, and principles.. They
have a well-defined initial state, a known goal state or solution, and a constrained set of logical operators
(a known procedure for solving). Ill-structured (chaotic) problems, at the other end of the continuum, are
the kinds of Problems that are more often encountered in everyday and professional practice. Also known
as wicked problems, their solutions are neither predictable nor convergent. Ill-structured problems are
also interdisciplinary, that is, they cannot be solved by applying concepts and principles from a single
Ill-structured problems often require making judgments and express personal opinions or beliefs about the

° Complexity
Problems vary in terms of their complexity. Problem complexity can be determined by the number and
type of issues, functions, or variables involved in the problem; the degree of connectivity among those
variables; the type of functional relationships among those properties; and the stability among the
properties of the problem over time (Funke, 1991).

Complexity is also concerned with how many, how clearly, and how reliably components are represented
in the problem. We know that problem difficulty is related to problem complexity (English, 1998).
Complexity and structuredness overlap and as mentioned before are not independent variables. Ill-
structured problems tend to be more complex, especially those emerging from everyday practice. Most
well-structured problems tend to be less complex; however, some well structured problems can be
extremely complex and ill-structured problems can be fairly simple.
In this paper we define complexity as below:

° Level 1: Abnormality that affects the processes ability to achieve Q (Quality), C (Cost) and D
(Delivery time) in a limited area like a working station or a module. These problems are static
in nature and non interactive (like lack of 5S in a working station).
° Level 2: Abnormality that affects the next process (Q, C, D indicators) and may have an
impact on the final customer. These problems have static interaction and visible casual
relations (like a defect made by a worker for so many reasons, which passes to next process).
° Level 3: Abnormality that has certainly affected the final customer. Highly interactive and
dynamic problems occur in this level (like strategic problems about pricing of a product).
This kind of problems some times are the matter of company survival.

As mentioned before, there are relations between problem dimensions explained and somehow they have
all together the meaning of complexity. This can be shown in a phase diagram as below:

Problem Complexity
Level 1 Level 3

Problem Structuredness
Well structured Chaotic (ill structured)

Problem Dynamicity

Stable Unstable
No of root causes and/or their interrelation

FEW Many
And based on these phases of problem complexity, the organizational level must tackle these
problems have a harmony to above dimensions as below: (Arthur m.Schneiderman-1988)

Involved Organizational level in problem

Simple Worker CEO

What Are Problem solvers thinking model based on different dimensions of problems?

Based on two dimensions explained, Domain (Context) Specificity/Abstractness and Structuredness

a framework for differentiating people way of thinking through problems can be distinguished
(Valeri Souchkov-2004):

2 4

1 3

Fig 1: The Problem solver thinking framework

1. Chaotic (ill structured) and specific: we try to solve a problem by simply guessing what a
solution can be. This is the trials and errors method in its full extent and implementing the
solution. Might be good for problems of low-level difficulty and this way is successful if the
solution is almost known.
2. Chaotic (ill structured) and abstract: We use guidance by the methods which help us to diverge
to break mental inertia or associate our problem with some already known solution but residing in
a different area. For instance, we might use lateral thinking, or we might have to search for
analogy. Solving problems by analogy is a very powerful method, but how to find a right
analogy? This might be troublesome.
3. Specific and Structured: this is where logical thinking comes to play. We use logic to analyze
why a problem is happening, what causes the problem; and assume that the deeper we understand
the problem, the higher chance we will have to solve it. This won’t necessarily provide us with
solutions (although it many situations it will) but at least give us a better insight to what forms the
problem. This way of thinking is often attributed to systematic problem solving approach: first,
understand the problem and then solve it. But what to do if understanding of the problem’s causes
does not give us insight on what a solution can be? Still, understanding the problem is very
4. Abstract and Structured: This is where we not only use logic to understand the roots of a problem
but also use universal abstract patterns which can solve the problem. This is the most effective
way to solve creative problems. But what are these abstract patterns? In my opinion, they are
aggregation of many different analogies, which we can observe in technology, biology, social
life. They are exactly what Altshuller and TRIZ researches have identified by studying vast
massive of creative and innovative solutions. Advantage of TRIZ is that it identified many such
abstract patterns: inventive principles, inventive standards, patterns of system evolution. It is
impossible to say that TRIZ has a comprehensive set of patterns, but its set of patterns helps to
solve many difficult problems
What Are Problem solving methods based on different dimensions of problems?

As mentioned before, the complexity of processes most in need of improvement in an organization
increases with the organizational level of the process executors. Based on this fact and by experiencing
more than 100 problem solving cases in famous companies (Cypress Semiconductor, GEC Ferranti,
Hewlett-Packard and MEMC Electronic Materials) , Arthur M. Schneiderman (1988) has introduced the
following complexity framework based on the problem dimensions which we discussed, the diagonal
band is the region into which most problems occur. If any problem occurs below this band, it must be
transfer to upper organizational levels, and if it happens to be above the band , this is a problem which is
preferred to be solved by lower organizational level.


Upper Mgmt

Mid. Mgmt
Region of critical

Fig 2
Level Level Level
11 2 3 The Complexity Map

Based on above Map we can discuss Different ways of problem solving based on different organizational
level who has to tackle with and the complexity of problem, as following framework:

Upper Mgmt

Mid. Mgmt

Supervisor 2

Worker 1
Level Level Level
1 2 3
In the problem solving framework:
Fig 3: The Problem solving framework

° Section 1: This section contains level1 problems which must be tackled by workers and their
supervisor in a limited area. In this area QC circles mainly use the simple QC 7 tools to solve the
problems. A Q.C. circle consists of a first line supervisor and all of those who report directly to
him or her. They constitute a team that has complete ownership of a sub process. In general, the
improvement activities of Q.C. circles are limited to the team's local work area. The sub process
is usually independent of external processes. Each Q.C. circle then follows a seven-step process.
This process -- collecting data, discovering root causes, and implementing corrective action -- has
been utilized successfully to improve sub processes in manufacturing and other operations for
more than 40 years. For successful Q.C. circles, adherence to the process -- not just finding a
solution -- is seen as critical. Data collection and root cause analysis break processes down into
components and causal relationships that describe the sub process.
When these steps are skipped, solutions often result in unintended consequences or fail to have an
impact on root causes within the sub process.
the seven quality control tools (7 Q.C. tools) -- i.e., Pareto diagram, cause and effect diagram,
stratification, check sheet, histogram ,scatter diagram, graphs and control charts -- were proposed
about 30 years ago and are widely used to solve more than 90 percent of the problems in Japanese
Of course sometimes based on the experience supervisors or his team know the problem solution
or they can use analogy to solve it. So if they had tried solution of this problem beforehand, the
just directly jump to solution.

° Section 2: This section mainly contains level2 problems which are faced by middle managers. To
solve such problems one can use 7Managerial quality tools (i.e. affinity diagram, relations
diagram, tree diagram, PDPC, arrow diagram, matrix diagram, and matrix data analysis), 8D,
PDCA and kaizen tools and rules.
This is not to be misunderstood that the 7 Q.C. tools have become old. On the contrary, the 7
Q.C. tools are still the most important set of techniques in Japan. Rather, the 7M tools should
perhaps be called 'supplemental seven Q.C. tools,' and in this sense, it is recommended that these
methods should be learned after the 7 Q.C. tools have been well mastered. The 7M tools attempt
to identify the interrelationship among the various elements of a problem. They identify causality
and assess the relationship between all of the "whats" and "how s" of a problem.
The tools in this section are incredibly labor intensive. The use of the tools cannot be effectively
delegated since they rely heavily on the personal knowledge of all of the team members.
Therefore, they are very expensive to use. Proponents believe that the cost is justifiable in terms
of the quality of the results compared with other processes for making decisions. Because of these
specifications the middle managerial level must be involved and support. These tools can be
described as tool set for cross-functional teams dealing with increased problem complexity.
Several of the tools (e.g., kj diagram, tree diagram, matrix data analysis) form the basis of Q.F.D.,
the front end of which is called the Voice of the Customer (V.O.C.). Besides simple six sigma
tools can be beneficial in this section.

° Section 3: This section mainly contains level2 and 3 problems which are faced by upper
managers. To solve such problems one can take advantage of using Hoshin Kanri (or policy
deployment, as it is known as in the West) to have significant progress in synchronizing or
aligning corporate wide activity in the accomplishment of a few, clearly defined, organizationally
complex breakthrough objectives. These days some manufacturing companies use BSC( Balanced
Score Card) instead of Hoshin Kanri tools.
In this section with the power and support of upper managers some expensive tools like Six Sigma
can be used (DMAIC , DFSS). Besides the lean production systems’ tools will be widely spread to
all organization from this level. The most important elements of these mentioned tools are : The
deployment of both goals and the means for their achievement throughout the organization;
process known as "catchball" in which the required means are balanced against the available
resources and know-how; The use of detailed implementation plans that focus on the 5W's + 1H;
and a very systematic approach to problems like six sigma which is not only a tool but a culture
which must be support by upper managers .

° Section 4: This section belongs to the very complicated problems (Level3) which must be tackled
by CEO and Top managers. These kinds of problems are mostly Strategic for the company and
directly affect final customer. Highly dynamic competition environment brings such problems to
organization. This kind of problems will be tackled by Strategic formulation and implementation
tools like SWOT, QSPM, SRP models, etc. Besides the control of this type problems must be
mainly feed forward .These kind of problems are not the concern of this paper and it needs more
discussion (as exists) elsewhere.
For such problems Arthur M. Schneiderman (1998) re examined the use Simulation Modeling.
Simulation modeling allows us to characterize the dynamic relationship between the various
elements of a process. It demonstrates that the changes in a system are driven not only by these
relationships themselves, but also by the state of the various parts of the system relative to their
desired state. It captures the inherent time delay between cause and effect that masks the
underlying leverage points in the process. Most important, it holds the promise of reducing the
complexity of the seven management tools by pointing to the vital few interrelationships, often
hidden, that really drive the behavior of complex systems. As a complement to the seven
management tools, it provides a more palatable approach for senior managers.
Simulation models provide a laboratory in which P.D.C.A. can be performed on long-cycle-time
processes. Since simulation models are often based on managers' perceptions of the structure of a
problem, they can incorporate mental models with a high right-brain or intuitive content.
say re-examine because simulation modeling of complex, interactive, dynamic systems was
introduced by Jay Forrester of M.I.T. in the early 1950's.15 Mr. Forrester recognized the role of
feedback loops in determining the dynamic behavior of complex systems. His landmark research
appeared in the Harvard Business Review in the late 1950's.
A team can build a simulation model and identify the leverage points (root cause equivalents) for
corrective action intervention. They can validate the model by comparing the behavior of the
model with their real-life experiences with the real system. They can apply the P.D.C.A. cycle by
observing the results of their corrective actions and changing the simulation model as appropriate.
How to select Problem solving methods based on different dimensions of problems?

Based on Different Problems’ types we defined previously, Variable problem solvers way of thinking and
the framework of problem solving methods for each type of problems, A very useful problem solving
methodology selection flow chart can be developed:

Fig 4: The Problem solving methodology selection flow chart


All people have some problem-solving skills. And for each person problem solving is a very
individualized process. Problem solving is something that occurs regularly every day; yet little emphasis
has traditionally been given to its improvement.
In this paper we classified problems and Problem solvers way of thinking based on their domain
specificity or abstractness, complexity, structuredness and dynamicity. Then we completely discussed
different problem solving methods based on different problems’ types and different organizational levels.
We need to understand the problem solvings’ region of usefulness and assure that they are used
thoughtfully, rather than mechanically. They are an extremely costly set of tools (in terms of time).
Furthermore, we must always remember that consensus does not always lead to the best answer.
Based on different type of problems, different type of problem solving methods must be applied. If a
problem and its selected solving method were harmonized, lean concept will happen based on eliminating
wastes of bad problem solving and we will have more effective and efficient problem solving processes.


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