Explore the 8D Problem Solving Approach

Is there a disciplined method that allows companies to solve problems? In times of crisis, companies face the challenge of analyzing and solving problems efficiently in a short time to save developed projects. Problem-solving techniques such as the TRIZ method and Hurson’s Production Thinking Model tend to provide a tool for companies to overcome crises and solve problems using less effort and time.

In 1987, Ford Motor Company published their manual, Team Oriented Problem Solving (TOPS), that includes their 8 Disciplines problem solving process. The process was initially used to deal with quality control and safety issues inside the company, but later expanded its role to a team approach problem solving method. The 8D process is employed by engineers and designers to identify, analyze, and correct problems through eliminating the main source that caused the problem.

The 8D problem solving process includes 8 Disciplines and, in the mid-90s, a D0 step for planning was added to the process. The 8D steps include the following:

  • D0: Plan
  • D1: Team formation
  • D2: Describe the problem
  • D3: Develop a temporary containment plan
  • D4: Determine and verify root causes
  • D5: Verify permanent solution
  • D6: Implement the permanent solution
  • D7: Prevent recurrence
  • D8: Congratulate your team

The 8 Disciplines aim to achieve the following targets while solving the specified problem:

  • Think as a team while solving the problem
  • Isolate the problem and understand its causes
  • Identify the factors that contribute to the problem
  • Provide a temporary solution to halt the impact of the problem
  • Eliminate the causes of the problem and the factors contributing to it
  • Prevent the problem from recurring

When to use 8D Problem Solving

Based on the above targets, the 8D problem solving process is designed for complex problems whose solution exceeds the ability of one expert. Also, it aims to establish communication for problem resolution through different levels inside the company. In some situations, the consumer or the management team requests the application of the 8D process through a number of forms or documentations.

While 8D problem solving is suitable for recurring problems that may occur repeatedly within a project or company, it is not suitable for simple problems that can be solved quickly by individual efforts. The process is not suitable for a problem whose causes are already known or can be solved with direct solutions. The 8D process is designed for complex problems, which require several weeks to solve and the involvement of at least 4 people.

8D problem solving provides a systematic process to find and solve problems. Therefore, if the problem requires choosing between alternative solutions, 8D acknowledges that other tools may help solve the problem better than the 8D process.

8D problem solving
The 8 Disciplines problem solving process.

The 8D Problem Solving Process

The steps below form the 8 Discipline process and achieve targeted problem solving through the various steps.

D0: Plan

This discipline is also known as the Pre 8D because it aims to have a general understanding of the problem and to determine if the 8D process is the right method to use. At this stage the team aims to answer general questions such as:

  • Is this a new problem or has it happened before?
  • Is this a recurring problem?
  • What is the history of this issue?
  • What was the method used to solve the problem before?

At this stage, the target is to learn about the problem’s history and decide if the 8D process is the best tool to solve the problem.

D1: Team Formation

Thinking as a team can produce more efficient solutions than trying to solve a problem alone. The team includes all the stakeholders associated with the problem. The team communicates with each other and performs brainstorming in order to solve the problem. If the team does not know each other, the brainstorming time can be used to learn how teach members think. To explore ideas together, methods can be used in the brainstorming session such as Mind Mapping, Six Thinking Hats, Lego Serious Play, and others.

D2: Describe the problem

After team formation, the second step is to understand the problem and its risks. This stage starts with a risk analysis to identify the situation and how it can affect the project flow. A number of methods can be used to analyze the problem from different perspectives, these include SWOT analysis, SCAMPER technique and similar tools. This stage is essential to building a clear vision about the problem and make sure all the stakeholders have the same understanding to the situation.

D3: Develop a temporary containment plan

While solving the problem, there should be a temporary containment plan to prevent the problem from affecting the rest of the project or the final product. This temporary containment solution is a short-term operation such as adding more labor, increasing the quality measurements, applying a risk plan, etc.

It is very important to understand that the containment action is not the actual solution and is only to be used for a short term. Therefore, this action can be applied internally and not affect the process of reaching the permanent solution.

D4: Determine and verify root causes

This stage aims to investigate the root causes of the problem; it can be considered the core of the 8D problem solving process. In many problems, what we see as causes are actually symptoms of other root causes. This misunderstanding can lead to incorrect attempts at solutions that can have negative consequences in the future and leave the underlying problem unsolved.

An intensive investigation should be implemented because, in many cases, the root cause is hidden inside the process and covered by many symptoms, causing confusion. There are a number of tools that can be used to define the root causes of the problem, such as brainstorming, statistical analysis, flow charts, audits, etc.

D5: Verify permanent solution

Once the root cause is defined, the solution starts to become obvious and the team has a better understanding of how to solve the problem. However, the symptoms and other related factors may create difficulties in deciding how best to apply the solution. So, these other factors should be considered when determining the permanent solution for the dilemma.

While choosing the permanent solution of the problem, it should meet with the following criteria in order to ensure it is the ideal solution for the problem:

  • The solution should be practical
  • The solution should be feasible
  • The solution should be cost-effective
  • The solution should not fail during production
  • The solution should be implemented to all affected facilities in the company

D6: Implement the permanent solution

Once the solution is approved, this step tends to work as an action plan. This plan aims to outline the steps that need to be taken to implement the solution. It is common to ask questions in this stage, such as: What should done? Who should be involved in the correction plan?

If the solution is complex and needs further procedures, more documentations and detailed plans should be created. The plan may include training the team and checking the plan’s progress for further development and improvement.

D7: Prevent recurrence

Once the action plan is set and ready to be implemented, the team should establish a plan to prevent the problem from occurring in the future. The action plan should be tested and documented as part of the process in order to prevent recurrence of the problem. Some of the tools that can be used to achieve this goal are Control Charts, Capabilities Analysis, and Control Plans.

D8: Congratulate your team

After completing the task and implementing the solution, the team deserves an acknowledgment of their work and a celebration. This will have a positive impact on the stakeholders. This also reflects recognition of employees’ efforts from the management inside the company.

Conclusion

The 8D Problem Solving process provides a solid and systematic method that ensures that the problems inside a company or project is solved through eliminating its root causes and prevent recurrence. However, it is most suitable for complex problems that can take weeks or even months to solve. Therefore, the first stage aims to determine if the 8D process is even suitable for the problem or if simpler tools should be implemented. If the 8D problem solving method is appropriate for your business’ problem, you have a step-by-step template to guide you through your attempts to find a suitable solution to the obstacle you need to overcome.

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Rafiq Elmansy

Rafiq Elmansy is the founder of Designorate.com, author, and design and innovation consultant. He is an affiliated faculty teaching design at the American University in Cairo. He holds a master degree in Design Management with Distinction from Staffordshire University, UK. He has more than 17 years experience in the field of UXD and interaction design, and his books are published by John Wiley, O’Reilly Media and Taylor and Francis. He is also a contributor at the Design Management Review. Rafiq is a jury board member for the A'Design Awards, Poster for Tomorrow, and Adobe Achievements Awards. His design artwork was exhibited in many locations including Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, and Spain.