Lean Problem Solving: Countermeasures

July 1, 2020
By Darren Dolcemascolo

In February and March of this year, we talked about two important phases of problem solving: defiing the problem and performing gap analysis to determine critical or root causes.  This month, we are going to finish the series and talk about  developing and implementing countermeasures and the monitoring to ensure that the countermeasures are effective.  It is important to understand that Lean problem solving is based on PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) or, if you prefer, PDSA (Plan Do Study Adjust)- both of these are essentially the same but some believe that the PDSA better represents the intent.  Problem Definition and Gap Analysis are part of the Plan phase.  Developing and Selecting Countermeasures is also part of the Plan phase.  Implementing countermeasures and following up on them are the Do / Check / Act portion.  We will begin this article by discussing development and selection of countermeasures.


After we understand the critical causes it is time to develop countermeasures that specifically address these causes.  This should be a collaborative process.  In team problem solving workshops, I generally recommend using a silent brainstorming method.  In the age of COVID-19, this can also be done virtually using Chat, as long as the rules of brainstorming are followed.  Silent brainstorming typically requires team members to write down their ideas- 1 per sticky note- and then place these sticky notes on a whiteboard in front of the room.  The ideas will later be discussed and ranked based on some criteria. The most basic approach is to rank the ideas based on Effort and Impact using an Impact / Effort matrix shown in the figure below.  Ideas that have largest impact and least effort are prioritized starting in the upper left of the diagram.   From this diagram, the team can create an action plan for testing and implementation.



After the team develops countermeasures and selects from among multiple alternatives suggested, they can begin testing and implementing the countermeasures.  The highest priority items should be tested as efficiently as possible.  In some cases, it is easy to test a countermeasure.  In other cases, it takes some ingenuity- creating a mock-up or even a simulation.  After a countermeasure is tested, it should be implemented and then it's effectiveness verified over time.  The verification of effectiveness through measurement is the "Check" or "Study" phase.  If problems are detected during this phase, then we must "Adjust" or "Act." Many times, we must make adjustments to our implementation plan as we learn from our implementation steps.  After we have made any needed adjustments, we will continue to monitor the results, and then select the next problem to be solved- returning to the "P" of the "PDCA" cycle. 


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