By Paul A. Edney and Michael S. Slocum
"A problem well defined is a problem half-solved." –John Dewey
It is no coincidence that virtually all analysis (e.g., PDSA, scientific method), improvement (e.g., DMAIC) and design methodologies (e.g., DIDOV / DMEDI) begin with problem definition and problem statement activities. Time and resources will be wasted unless objectives and tasks are adequately scoped, defined and stated. Setting up an innovation activity is no different: whether following DMASI or DMAPI – both begin with a problem definition step.
The heuristic redefinition process (HRP) is a robust tool used to generate alternate problem statements. Unlike other problem identification tools (e.g., opportunity analyses in marketing, function modeling in TRIZ, Pareto classification in Lean), HRP is based on the existing system or process under consideration.
As HRP is intended to stimulate thinking about the role of subsystem elements or sub-process steps on the overall system goal(s), it is a powerful tool to highlight and strengthen links between system levels, between process steps, and between the system or process and the overall strategy. (In many ways, HRP is a distant cousin of the 9-screens tool often used in TRIZ.)
The Five Steps of HRP
"Heuristic" is from the Greek "heuriskos," which means "process." Thus, HRP is a structured approach, or algorithm, that consists of five steps:
- Define goals and opportunities. Objectives must be clearly stated. Is it a process metric that needs improvement? Is there functionality that needs to be integrated into the current system or process? Is there an undesirable effect to be reduced or eliminated?
- Map the process or system. Each step of the process or constituent element of the system must be identified. While this most often takes the form of a process map (a.k.a. wall-map, functional map or diagram, flowchart, swim lanes), systems are sometimes described using inter-relational diagraphs or tree representations.
- Express impact of each step or element. Each process step or system element is analyzed in turn. How does this step or element support the process or system? What is its role? What are its effects – both useful and harmful? The answers are ideally expressed fewer than five words; if more are needed, this could be an indication that step 2 is incomplete ( i.e., has not been sufficiently expanded).
- Link each impact back to each goal. While step 3 focuses on putting each step or element in context within the process or system, this step expressly contrasts the impact of each step or element with the objectives set forth in step 1. How does this step or element support the goal(s)? How is it leveraged to realize the opportunity? How does it contribute to the problem? The output is then phrased as a question that defines the new problem to solve.
- Organize and consolidate statements. Finally, all problem statements that were generated need to be organized. Are there recurrent themes? If so, they may point to a powerful opportunity in that one solution may address several problem statements. Are there interactions among steps or elements? Perhaps there are synergies or contradictions that can be worked on. Is the problem statement stand-alone or isolated? Then there is an opportunity to work on a focused, well-scoped problem.
Combining HRP with Other Tools and Methodologies
HRP has only one purpose: to generate problem statements. However, the variety of the output as described in step 5 demonstrates that HRP can generate different perspectives on a problem, and that each perspective may be worked on with a different ideation tool. Thus, while HRP is a convergent thinking process that is constrained by the causal links that exist between each element in the system and its ideal impact on the system, it can expand the available solution space by providing a foundation to which many different ideation tools can be applied.
How the output from step 5 is approached determines the next step(s): one can be focused on each individual statement and/or one can seek to identify and leverage patterns that emerge from the entire set of problem statements. It is typical of HRP to generate more than a dozen new problem statements (a crude estimate is problem statements = steps or elements * stated goals). Some will highlight a contradiction and will be tackled with TRIZ; others will reveal interactions and will be investigated and optimized with Design of Experiments (DOE); many will showcase non-value added or redundant steps or elements that can be removed, reassigned or recombined with Lean. In situations where a significant number of harmful effects and/or contradictions are present, function modeling can be used to re-analyze the system. Note, however, that a system that has been mapped out using functional modeling is ill-suited for subsequent use in HRP. Indeed, the output of function modeling is typically best-suited to TRIZ (contradictions) or value stream analysis (through enhancement, elimination and transfer of functionalities).
While the above describes an existing process or system, HRP can also be used in design (e.g., DIDOV, axiomatic design). Specifically, it can be used to analyze the efficiency and robustness of proposed designs or processes: Do they support the goals? Are they streamlined? Could they fail? In this sense, HRP can be a valuable tool to axiomatic design or to any other system-based approach. If a product or process was designed with a one-sided perspective, HRP can help analyze that proposed design with a new set of eyes. Again, because HRP is a convergent thinking process that is constrained by the causal links that exist between each element in the system and its ideal impact on the system, it can help ferret out weak linkages within the process or the system, whether they are due to non-value added steps, to critical paths or to poor integration.
The heuristic redefinition process (HRP) is a robust tool that focuses on what is arguably the most critical element of problem solving: problem definition. While HRP may appear trivial at first, it offers many critical features:
- Focuses the effort on the process or system under consideration;
- Enables systematic analysis of the sub-processes or sub-systems and their role(s) in the complete process or system;
- Highlights linkages between (a) goals and objectives and (b) process steps or system elements; and
- Sets a solid foundation for a vast array of ideation tools to be applied.
HRP is systematic, analytical, versatile and fundamental to many improvement and innovation methodologies.
About the Authors:
Paul A. Edney, Ph.D., is the owner of Edney Consulting. Contact Paul A. Edney at paul (at) edney-consulting.com or visit http://edney-consulting.com.
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) inventioneeringco.com or visit http://www.inventioneeringco.com.
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