Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 2: Analyzing the Problem

As mentioned at the conclusion of the previous post, analyzing a customer experience problem is best done in a group setting with individuals who are in some way involved with the issue under discussion.  A typical “gap” that’s causing customer dissatisfaction will likely consist of numerous components that may or may not be obvious upon initial inspection.  That’s why a cross-functional team, with representation from throughout the organization, is critical in both developing a thorough understanding of the problem, and in devising an effective solution.

For this post, let’s look at two analytical tools: the Five-Why’s, and the Fishbone Diagram.  

The Five-Why’s is a component of Kaizen, the Japanese manufacturing process that focuses on continuous improvement.  Underlying this tool is the idea that the root cause of most problems can be identified by asking 5 why questions in succession, with the source of the problem typically apparent by the fourth or fifth question.  

Let’s use the customer problem illustrated in the diagram below to work through a five-why analysis: a retail store is experiencing extended line-ups at the check-out counters, resulting in customer complaints.  Starting the five-why’s might proceed as follows: 1) why are there long line-ups at the check-out counters?  Because the cash registers require that the cashier manually input the price of the item; 2) why do we have cash registers that require manual input?  Because previous budgets have not included a provision to upgrade the check-out technology.  3) why have we not budgeted for an investment in new check out technology?  Because lower than expected revenues and higher than expected costs have not allowed for sufficient funds for technology investment; 4) why is the company’s fiscal position such that we cannot make these needed investments?  Hmmm…this seems to be a logical question, but is this line of inquiry really getting to the root cause?

We could start our five-why’s with a different focus…1) why are there long line-ups at the check-out counters?  Because the cashier staff is generally slow and prone to making mistakes;  2) why are the cashiers working slowly and making mistakes?  Because they generally don’t have the ability to enter items quickly and accurately;  3) why do they seemingly not have the competence necessary to process purchases quickly and accurately?  Because they haven’t been provided with adequate training.  4)  why haven’t they received sufficient training?  Because their isn’t sufficient budget to design a proper training course;  5) Why isn’t there sufficient budget? Because lower than expected revenues and higher than expected costs have not allowed for sufficient funds for training investment.  Hmmm, once again, we’ve proceeded through a series of questions, but have not identified a persuasive root cause.  This illustrates some of the limitations of the five-why’s tool.  Specifically, it’s not terribly effective in situations such as this where there may be multiple root causes underlying a specific problem.  

Generally, the five-why’s work best in a well defined linear process that contains a logical beginning and end flow.  This is typically the case in a manufacturing environment, and perhaps explains why the tool is popular in these settings.

Customer experience issues are generally not as straightforward as those encountered in an assembly plant.  CX problems typically include multiple stakeholders, and potential root causes, and thus lend themselves to a more involved tool.  To illustrate this, have a look at the fishbone diagram below.  The basic idea behind a fishbone diagram is to think of all the possible perspectives of a particular problem, and then identify as many viable components as possible that are associated with that particular perspective.  In the fishbone below, for example, 3 potential perspectives have been identified with our cashier line-up problem.  These perspectives are technology, staffing and personnel, and the physical space of the store.  For each perspective, several associated components have been added…this provides a robust perspective of the complete environment of our problem.  Remember, our problem solving team is ideally a cross-functional representation from throughout the company, so each member should be able to offer a substantive contribution representing their particular perspective.  Ultimately, this should result in a well thought out solution.


As you can see, a well designed fishbone diagram requires a fair amount of work and brainstorming, but the resulting illustration should make it a bit easier to organize thoughts and effectively resolve the problem at hand.


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