Does eight disciplines (8D) problem solving hold the secret to overcoming Covid-19?

Could a tried and tested industry problem-solving tool help manufacturing bounce back from Covid-19 stronger and more efficient? Dr Marcos Kauffman believes so.

Emanating in the US military during the Second World War, eight disciplines problem solving is a model widely used across industry when things go wrong and need to be appropriately contained and improved.

The methodology, which takes a collaborative approach to critical problem solving, provides a structured framework for teams to uncover the root cause of an issue, develop a robust containment plan, and implement a permanent corrective solution.

Utilising 8D to address problems delivers a number of benefits, including:

  • Containment – so that negative effects are mitigated.
  • Root cause analysis – so that an effective solution can be found, and repetitions avoided.
  • Efficiency – so that businesses can operate to their fullest potential.
  • Success – both in the short and long-term.
  • Profitability – operations run more smoothly and there are fewer reoccurring issues, both contribute to greater profitability.

Using 8D is a matter of working through eight steps in chronological order. I set out below a post-Covid-19 pathway for manufacturing businesses:

D1 – Create a team

Pulling in members from different functions or disciplines with varied backgrounds and experiences will lead to the best quality inputs and most rounded solutions. Appoint a leader and define clear roles so that the team operates smoothly from the start.

We’ve already seen a number of consortiums coming together to address the challenges related to the lack of PPE and ventilators. This is just the start. As industries emerge from the lockdown, more ‘teams’ must be formed to collaborate and solve the problems facing our supply chains moving forward.

D2: Describe the problem

The problem needs to be objectively defined in a way that captures all the key information:

  • What is happening?
  • Who is being affected?
  • Where is it occurring?
  • When and how frequently is it happening?
  • How does the problem take place?
  • How much? – quantify the impact of the problem

Scientists are already working to understand how the Covid-19 virus works and, in due course, will further define the problem before working on a solution in the form of a potential vaccine.

The who, where, when and how questions formed a central part of the early responses to the pandemic – primarily, understanding how the virus will spread, how fast and in what environments.

How do we define the problems faced by industry and individual businesses? What costs would be avoided if we address the root cause? Are we working on the symptoms or the causes of those problems? What do we need to learn in order to find the root cause? What experiments do we plan to run? What data are we going to collect?

Just like with the wider crisis, the costs of containment are always disproportionately high when compared with the cost of avoiding/eliminating the problem altogether.

D3: Develop a containment plan

A quick fix is sometimes needed until a permanent solution can be found. It might be necessary to ensure that further products, processes and customers aren’t affected, or the problem doesn’t worsen before being resolved.

Developing an interim containment plan can then help to free up resources for addressing the main problem. This is where we are at the moment with Covid-19.

Hygiene measures, social distancing and the lockdown have all been containment actions aimed at helping reduce infection rates. Such measures are necessary, and we’re beginning to see the ‘flattening of the infection curve’ across many countries in Europe as a result.

Nevertheless, at an industry level we’re only beginning to see the mobilisation of containment plans to address the impact on the manufacturing value chain.

There is a long road ahead of us where our sector will need strong collaboration and coordination in order to succeed.

D4: Identify and verify root causes

To solve a problem successfully, it’s vital to identify all the root cause elements. If one is missed, then a problem may reoccur despite your improvement efforts. There are several tools that can help achieve this, including the ‘5 Whys’ and ‘Fishbone’ diagrams.

Scientists across the world are working to better understand the virus (our root cause of Covid-19) and trialling potential vaccines.

Many businesses, however, lack the right framework and skill to effectively problem solve in the current situation. In regard to re-opening or scaling up operations, they must consider what their individual ‘root causes’ are and what the new normal is before moving on to the potential option and permanent solutions.

There will be a financial cost to implementing the new normal, associated with implementation of new control measures and PPE, but also potential short to medium reductions in demand and associated losses of productivity. In some cases, it will be completely necessary to revisit the business operating model in order to maintain profitability.

D5: Validate permanent solutions

Once the root causes are understood, the team can begin to identify permanent corrections. It’s important to explore all the options fully to understand whether there are any unwanted implications or possible side-effects.

Although one solution should be agreed upon, it can be beneficial to have alternatives.

D6: Define and implement countermeasures or corrective action

Once identified, the solution can be implemented. The outcomes should be carefully tracked to ensure the results are as expected. The PDCA (plan-do-check-act) approach is particularly useful in this regard as it allows for small-scale testing before large-scale rollout.

D7: Prevention measures

Solving problems fully means preventing them from occurring in the first place. In addition to any corrective action, preventative measures should also be implemented. This may involve reviewing management processes, operating procedure and training manuals to ensure that best practices are followed.

D8: Congratulate the team

Once the problem is solved, it’s important to recognise the team’s efforts and share their success across the organisation. This aids motivation and employee engagement, while encouraging others to also be proactive in adopting the principles of 8D to address future problems.

There will be a great deal of discussion over the coming months, particularly around avoiding a second peak. Not for the first time, the government could learn lessons from industrial best practice.


Dr Marcos Kauffman - Director of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering (AME)Dr Marcos Kauffman is Director of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering (AME), a collaboration between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing Group that brings together the best in academia, industry and R&D in a ‘live’ manufacturing environment.