Problem Solving TIPS Discussion


Melinda, a recent graduate of our Systematic Problem Solving one-day workshop asked this question about one of the problems her team was working on:

MELINDA:  Focusing upon what was specifically observed, my team wrote this Statement Core temperature gage is 20% above target operating temperature.We began, being most careful to be specific.  We identified the problem object and problem defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3’s Core Temperature Gage

DEFECT: Reading Too High

I recalled that our BPI instructor had a discussion with us about how to split the object and defect to allow consideration of proper range of potential causes and to avoid blind spots in thinking.  I wanted a quick check with you about our split.  Any suggestions?

BPI FACILITATOR: The main thing to remember about defining the defect and object is this.  When working on a SYSTEM we recommend you define the object as the system and the defect as any deviation observed.  So with the problem you worked on (above) we’d define the Object and Defect as follows:

OBJECT: Boiling Water Reactor #3

DEFECT: Core Temperature Gage Reading Is Too High

The reason this is a better SPLIT is it facilitates a discussion of anything about the system that might be causing the gage to show a core temperature increase.  In your original split the object was the Gage.  In addition to the “obvious” possibility that the core is too warm, the team’s attention then goes to many other things that might create a false warm reading.  But the point is your first split takes the attention off the system and puts it on the gage – off the big thing and onto the monitoring device.

We recently saw a similar thing happen at an automotive assembly plant where the plant people defined the Object as a sensor rather than the Automobile.  And we see this in the media when a reporter makes a negative report about a person, place or thing and the focus becomes almost exclusively the reporter as the problem (deserved or not.)  A focus on the big thing as the object encourages exploration of options beyond a faulty reporting mechanism (i.e. a biased or ignorant reporter).

One final example comes to mind.  When researchers reveal research that supports an unpopular “idea”, attacking them as biased and a tool of the XYZ industry or political correctness has become common.  While researcher bias may always be considered in these situations, other potential causes should also be evaluated.

When you hear attacks solely against a speaker in the absence of any reasoned discussion of his or her ideas, consider this may be an attempt to distract you from the new information the speaker might offer.