Countermeasures in Lean Six Sigma are very much like countermeasures in everyday life: an action designed to directly and immediately counteract a problem on the production line. Unlike a one-time, permanent solution, countermeasures are meant to offset or neutralize an action rather than addressing root cause.
In Lean manufacturing, problems are solved by completing a Root Cause Analysis and implementing solutions that will solve the existing, related, and recurring issues. However, not all problems allow for an immediate resolution; managers may find multiple root causes to complex projects, sections of the production line may need to be completely redone, etc. Countermeasures are implemented to address the immediate symptoms of the problem while a root cause analysis is completed, and a solution is determined.
A3 Process for Problem Solving
Finding and implementing countermeasures are often included in the problem-solving approach known as the A3 process. Teams completing an A3 report work together to summarize relevant contextual information, describe the current state of production, conduct a root cause analysis, and detail the desired outcome. Utilizing this information, the team will work together to compile a list of possible countermeasures, highlighting the best options.
The structure of an A3 report suggests applying countermeasures following a root cause analysis, but there are no set rules on when or where to implement countermeasures and some Lean professionals argue a good countermeasure can actually help to identify the root cause of a problem.
Countermeasures are immediate solutions, but not every immediate solution to a problem is a countermeasure. While they can be incredibly beneficial to the problem-solving process, bad countermeasures have the potential to cause even more issues and further slowdown the production line. Teamwork and communication are key to brainstorming countermeasures and with every suggested action, the team should ask some important questions: How could this impact the current situation? Does the countermeasure block future improvements? This teamwork will likely come in handy when it’s time to develop a permanent solution.