Continuous Improvement: Collaborative Problem Solving

Continuous Improvement: Collaborative Problem Solving

Collaboration involves two or more people or organizations working together in an intersection of common goals. With our work days being tight on time and our businesses wide in spectrum, we sometimes lose focus on process improvement by not taking the time to collaborate and find the true root cause of a problem.

Personally, the need to collaborate did not seem as crucial a process tool until a few weeks ago during a LeanCor private training event in Atlanta. The training involved an array of participants from store managers to suppliers, as well as an internal continuous improvement team. Although these students were all linked to the same company, there was a disconnect in the room when it came to communication and problem solving.

To see the company’s departments, customers, and suppliers as a system instead of independent silos, we split the class into two teams. Each team consisted of representatives from all areas of the business completing the training. The team that I will use in this example, Team A, consisted of a representative from the company’s largest supplier, a distribution center supervisor, a store manager, a few people from the continuous improvement team, and an associate from the purchasing department.

Current State Lean Value Stream Map Current State Lean Value Stream Map

In order to fill the gaps in team member systems process knowledge, Team A created a Current State Value Stream Map that listed all the processes from the purchasing department ordering parts and the supplier shipping them to the distribution center receiving and shipping the parts to the stores.

After completing the Current State Value Stream Map and brainstorming about lead time and bottleneck areas, the team jointly placed a red Kaizen Burst around sorting and assembling mixed loads from the supplier.

"Why do we have mixed loads?" Initially, this question was answered with, “that’s just how the supplier ships its loads." When the representative from the company’s largest supplier heard this statement in the group, he replied that the only reason they ship mixed loads is because of how the parts are ordered by the company’s purchasing department. After a few minutes of brainstorming, collaborative problem solving, and root cause analysis through use of the Cause and Effect (Fishbone) Diagram and 5 Why Analysis, the team collectively agreed that the root cause of the problem was the internal programming of the purchasing system.

Not only did it take just a few minutes to expose the root cause of a painful problem, but the proposed solutions would require minimal effort, cost, and resources to significantly reduce supply chain lead time!

As illustrated in this example, collaborative problem solving exposes problematic root causes that would have otherwise been hidden by individual opinions. Without these individuals coming together and collectively analyzing the current state of their business, they would have continued supporting the broken process while blaming the supplier and increasing customer lead time.

When collaboratively solving problems, it is important to:

  • Think as a system instead of in silos to determine how things influence one another within a whole.
  • Incorporate all opinions and ideas while brainstorming; the best ideas are sometimes never heard.
  • Use facts and figures through the use of data and informed decision making.
  • Be transparent about your findings so that all information is accurate.
  • Guide discussions through common goals and a company vision.

Who knew that we can solve a multitude of problems by merely communicating with the right people?

Written by Ana Guzman, Lean Deployment Specialist at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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