Observe Before Disturbing the Crime Scene
The cardinal rule in detective work is not to disturb the crime scene. That's why they use all that yellow tape and wear latex gloves. It's intriguing to watch detectives and crime scene investigative units work. Many of us are attracted to those types of shows. It's exactly why the "CSI" series has exploded. CSI; CSI: Miami; CSI: New York; CSI: Peoria. (Okay, not yet on that last one, but you get the point.) Keen detective work can lead to quicker problem resolutions.

The best detectives use their powers of observation in order to solve the crime. Sure, there's finger print analysis and DNA evidence, but don't the best solutions always come down to a minor detail noticed by an observant detective? Sometimes it's coincidence, but without a keen power of observation, the clue would have gone unnoticed.

So what about observation in problem solving? Consider "CSI: The Shop Floor." You may not have to solve a homicide; however, a process or piece of equipment that continues to fail can be nearly as catastrophic, and it can kill your bottom line, or at the very least, your ability to deliver on time. Approach problem solving like your favorite detective.

The crime: An inserter that fails to insert consistently. First, our shop floor detective resists the urge to touch anything. He doesn't necessarily wear latex gloves, but he knows it's important to observe and take note of the settings. While it's important to find a solution quickly, changing settings and turning dials before he's really taken time to observe the malfunction will very likely only complicate the issue and lengthen his downtime.

Any good researcher or scientist will tell you that in order to figure out the answer, it's imperative to change only one variable at a time. There are any number of things that could be causing the inserter malfunction – speed, suction, grippers, belts…. An unskilled shop floor detective will opt to alter them all at the same time just to get the thing running again. Customers are waiting, and the boss is tapping his watch. The problem with that approach is that when the inserter malfunctions again the following week, he's right back where he started without a solid solution… and without really knowing what worked earlier to fix the problem.

The keen shop floor detective alters things one at a time. First he changes the speed. If that doesn't solve the problem, he returns the speed to its original setting. Then he alters the suction setting and returns it to its initial setting if that fails to solve the problem. And so on. One variable at a time in order to unravel the problem and find the solution. He also observes how operators are interacting with the inserter. Does it always malfunction or only during certain shifts?

It may take the methodical shop floor detective longer to solve the problem initially, but by taking the time to really observe, his solution keeps the inserter running for weeks and months to come rather than dealing with ongoing malfunctions. The shop floor detective who fails to use his powers of observation end up solving the same crime over and over, which makes for really poor throughput results… and equally bad television.