Problem Identification:

You will first want to choose and identify a problem (or opportunity) to attack. Sometimes this will be assigned — other times you may want to pick the most significant issue from a pre-developed pareto chart. Be sure to stick with improvements that can be measured and will noticeably increase customer satisfaction.

Brainstorm to come up with a clear understanding of the problem and then develop a short, clear statement of the problem. State exactly what you plan to accomplish. Determining the price of nonconformance may improve consensus for action. Remember to work on only one facet of the problem at a time.

Tools: Brainstorming, Paretos, Action Plan

Process Identification:

Next, you need a good understanding of how this process works — the exact steps involved in the order they occur. This is necessary to determine why particular errors occur and how changes might affect this and other processes that interact.

To arrive at a clear understanding, review written procedures (if available), interview the people involved, and/or observe the process and how they relate to each other and to other systems. A good flowchart shows fundamental details for pertinent steps (who, what, when, where, why, how.)

Tools: Flowcharts

Problem Analysis:

Once you have a good understanding of the problem and the process involved, you are ready to list all the possible causes of the errors. Using brainstorming along with cause and effect analysis will help add structure to this activity, and ensure all areas are considered. Each time you list a problem cause, also ask yourselves, “why does this happen?” By asking why several times

in a row, it will help identify the “root” causes – the first actions in the chain that lead to nonconformance.

Tools: Cause & Effect Diagrams

 Data Collection:

At this point, your team should probably have a good idea as to what the main problems may be, however, these ideas are basically based on opinion. You will need to gather some facts in order to prove or disprove your theory.

This information may be available from computer reports or data processing. Many times the actual error causes must be counted manually using a checksheet or data collection sheet. Instead of looking at every single item, take a few samples to work with. By selecting a few,

it will allow you to delve more deeply into each item selected.

Tools: Tally sheets

Data Analysis:

Of course, a collection of numbers is not worth much until you analyze it to isolate the major cause of the errors. This is what you should base your solution on. After eliminating this major cause by continuing the cycle, attack the secondary causes.

Use paretos to separate the major causes out of your data. Summarize it using descriptive statistics. Other charts and graphs may prove useful — pie charts, scatter diagrams, histograms, etc. By performing the actual counts in the previous step and then analyzing that data, you now have solid proof of the major problem causes. This is important.

Tools: Pareto Charts, Histograms, Control Charts, Line Graphs, Pie Charts


Now it’s time to determine how to eliminate the cause of the errors to prevent them from happening in the future. We want to vaccinate our process to eliminate errors from occurring in the first place.

Get others involved, use brainstorming techniques. A cause & effect diagram (where the effect is no errors) may be useful. Once you have decided on a solution, see if you can test it out to make sure it will work and doesn’t negatively affect other situations. Review it against flowcharts of the current process or revise the charts. Run it by some people to get their views.

Most changes must be approved by management. By testing your solution to prove it is viable and by attending to every detail of how it should be implemented, the chances of getting your solution approved are much greater.

Tools: Brainstorming


To aid implementation, develop a concise and detailed action plan. Make sure the proposed changes are reasonable and feasible. Identify the areas and people who will be affected. List the ones that will help or hinder the proposed changes. Then, communicate the implementation plan to whomever is in a position to enact the changes. Follow up to make sure your solution is thoroughly analyzed and considered.

Tools: Action Plan


In order to determine the effects of the solution, it is useful to have a feedback mechanism. Review control charts of the affected process to see if the changes made a difference in the final quality. If control charts are not kept for this particular process, collect some data to see if it is improving or not. You may want to start a control chart for this process as well. If the results are not positive, take corrective action immediately.

Tools: Control Charts


The Continuous Improvement Cycle never ends… now it is time to start back at the top with a new problem or opportunity to attack!