Home > Blog > Proactive and Reactive Problem Solving

Proactive and Reactive Problem Solving

Posted by admin on May 18, 2014

There was an interesting article in IndustryWeek a few weeks ago about systematizing continuous improvement.  The author made a forceful argument that embedding continuous improvement in the DNA of a company is not just about tools and methodologies.  This is a nice tie-in to our recent series of blog posts about various problem-solving techniques.  Too often companies become fixated on a new tool as the magic bullet to resolve the company’s issues, when it is the tool and the consistent use of the tool that really make the difference.

The author touches on another favorite topic of ours: Proactive and reactive activities to meet the production plan.  We sometimes refer to “proactive problem solving”, which is a bit of an oxymoron because you don’t have a problem until you have a situation that should not be happening.  When we say “proactive problem solving” we really mean problem prevention.  By focusing on what could go wrong in a specific situation, steps can be taken to keep the problem from happening and actions can be planned for correcting the problem if it occurs. 

These are great skills to have in a manufacturing organization, especially when a change of some type is planned that could impact production.  Unfortunately, some times employees with these skills are thought of as “worry warts” because they are focused on what could go wrong.  But if the focus is on specific areas, such as problems that may result from anticipated changes, that is a good thing. (If they’re worried about everything, all the time, that is a concern.)

In our experience, manufacturers are most often focused on reactive problem solving—fixing something that has gone wrong as quickly as possible.  This is understandable because it is how the company meets customers’ needs and makes money.  Unfortunately, the need to get product out the door often trumps everything, including considerations about improving operations to keep problems from occurring and focusing on continuous improvement.  The plant is often left in a never-ending cycle of band-aide fixes and firefighting.  

Manufacturing clients have used our Problem Prevention - Risk Analysis (PP-RA) process in optimizing plans related to shutdowns, machine and equipment changeovers or modifications; new facility installations; product or process improvements; new product launches; and changing customer requirements.  Problems that occur when these changes are made can be very difficult to diagnose because there are so many potential causes. By thinking about potential issues beforehand our clients are able to implement plans to prevent the problems from occurring or make plans for quick solution implementation if the problem does occur.  This focus on risk management prevents being blindsided by a foreseeable event. 

The important point here is that these companies have made use of PP-RA skills part of their “conduct of operating” by integrating the process into day-to-day operations.   Every significant change is accompanied by a PP-RA detailing problems considered, actions taken or that should be taken to prevent those problems, and solutions that will be implemented if the problem occurs.  Is this needless worry?  Our clients don’t think so.  Most say their favorite problem is the one that didn’t happen.

PP-RA can’t keep all problems from happening, but it can head off a lot of those that can occur due to planned changes.  There always will be the need for reactive problem solving to correct problems that occur “out of the blue” with a cause that is difficult to identify.  PP-RA will keep many problems from happening so the plant can focus on the problems that could not be anticipated.