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A Practical Guide to Applying Unified Problem Solving (UPS) in a CI Environment

Essential to the support of every organisation is the efficient and effective application of problem-solving tools and techniques. The Unified Problem Solving (UPS) method has been designed to engage everybody in the whole organisation to autonomously eliminate losses at a pace, helping them to drive improvements in all areas.

Learning as a team and practising the skills of problem-solving enables organisations to develop a high level of rigour and speed in solving problems, solidifying the UPS method as a way of life as opposed to a one-time tactic. The framework helps individuals, teams and leaders achieve the stretching goals of reducing costs and its application allows us to tackle losses and improve efficiency – lowering costs in a logical, streamlined and effective manner.

In this practical guide to applying Unified Problem Solving in a Continuous Improvement (CI) environment, we will cover the following bases:

– The Aims of UPS
– The Characteristics of Poor Problem Solving
– Linking Financial Matters to Shop Floor Activities
– Roles and Responsibilities in Problem Solving
– 8 Key Benefits of Unified Problem Solving

The Aims of UPS

UPS ignites problem-solving as a core competence and, subsequently, individuals become more effective and efficient in their processes.

The concept of UPS is implemented to enable a universal and flexible language. It emphasises the fundamental principles and logic, unifying all problem-solving methods and tools of continuous improvement (CI) in a single framework, allowing a smooth, logical transition between the tools.

Unified Problem Solving enables:

– Natural selection of appropriate tools to solve a specific problem
– Support for problem-solving training and coaching
– An increase in the pace of problem-solving
– Simplifies and ignites daily problem-solving
– Support in reaching challenging targets such as significant reductions in minor stoppages and changeover time, improvements in productivity and delivery of innovations on time in full

The UPS method unlocks the understanding of the logic behind continuous improvement methods and tools. It guides the leadership team (or those in leadership roles) in the overall implementation, coaching and auditing of problem-solving to change people’s mindset toward CI.

Related read: The 4 Key Components of a Successful CI Programme in 2022. 

The Characteristics of Poor Problem Solving

To sensitise people to the issues of problem-solving, it is often helpful to highlight the issues that exist with the current approach.

The symptoms of poor problem-solving implementation can show in many ways, often leading to a company’s objectives not being sustained, if achieved in the first place.

There are a number of reasons why poor problem-solving occurs:

– Not seeing the problem
– Not using facts or evidence
– Not involving the right people
– Not identifying the problem factually
– Not understanding how the machine or process should work
– Jumping to conclusions or not following the logical step-by-step approach
– Not getting to the root cause during the analysis
– Not verifying the stages of analysis with the team
– Not implementing the correct countermeasure
– Not creating a sustainable solution

Related read: How to Design a World-Class CI Programme to Transform Performance

Linking Financial Matters to Shop Floor Activities

We use problem-solving to deal with the cause of losses and the risks to businesses. However, to make the best use of resources, we must know which problems to spend our time on and the most appropriate method of tackling them.

There are different types of problems, and so appropriate tools must be used to match their nature and complexity. Different people tackle problems differently due to the nature of their role within the organisation. Whatever the problem’s level, type, or complexity, it’s important that everyone in an organisation uses the same approach consistently to determine which problems to solve – and how – to ensure streamlined processes. When a problem is recognised, the individual person or persons should utilise the same prioritisation mechanism to tackle the issues, indicating a clear link between a cost and a loss.


It is fundamental to understand the link between costs and losses to create a strategic approach to improvement. To achieve this, we predominantly use these 3 languages in business: the languages of Money, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Loss.

The Language of Money is primarily used at the senior level in business to make strategic decisions, particularly about investment. Unless we can relate to this, there may not be the desired commitment.


The Language of KPIs is mainly used by leadership to help direct and drive toward the business goals. There is usually a set of independent financial KPIs.


The Language of Loss and waste is the most widely spoken and practical of languages and is the real driver for change. It is used at the shop floor level but is critically important to define and relate to performance and, ultimately, cost. The relationship and identification of related losses are vital as each of the losses has its own defined toolkit used to attack and reduce them. If the loss is not defined and identified correctly, then it is less likely that you will apply the appropriate toolkit to solve the problem, and ultimately, eradicate it.

From the definition of CI to the benefits, tools and methodologies, click here to read our essential guide to continuous improvement.

Roles and Responsibilities in Problem Solving

Fundamentally, there is a need to develop people’s competency at all levels of the organisation. Competency in problem-solving can be achieved by developing knowledge through understanding the theory of the problem-solving process, developing skills through practising the application of problem-solving tools and adopting the right behaviours to achieve success.


In practical terms, competency for the following roles is described as:

a) Leaders

Leaders should ensure that they are fully competent in the application of problem-solving techniques and be able to provide training and coaching support to teams and individuals to ensure practical application and pace. They should promote high standards through auditing and informal coaching, ensuring that clear responsibility is assigned for the execution and follow up of problem-solving activities.

b) Practitioners

Experts in either processes, machines, or the problem-solving techniques themselves, practitioners need to be highly competent problem solvers. They should be capable of supporting team members in the practical application of problem-solving, transferring ‘system’ knowledge to raise the competency of individuals and facilitate autonomous problem-solving.

c) Team Members

It’s important to develop team members, company-wide, to ensure proficiency in solving problems autonomously using specific tools and methodologies. Everyone should develop their knowledge of the ‘system’, so they can identify the gap between the actual problem and how it should work to assist in rapid problem-solving. Additionally, team members should support practitioners in gathering data to acquire an in-depth understanding of anomalies, and aid in solving more complex problems.

Learn how to radically improve your performance within a CI environment with this 7-step process:

8 Key Benefits of Unified Problem Solving

– A simple, straightforward method that is easy to learn and adopt.
– Provides an understanding of the use of problem-solving tools, improving the ability to identify and eliminate the root cause and gain a right-first-time problem-solving solution.
– Simplify the selection of the correct tools to solve specific problems.
– Foster positive individual involvement at all levels and across all functions.
– Enhance the pace in the elimination of loss and waste to achieve the goals now and the future performance targets.
– The ability to see and attack opportunities daily.
– Unlock people’s potential and change behaviours from firefighting to continuously looking for opportunities.
– Provides a universal and flexible common language.

Related read: 6 Key Benefits of Implementing a Continuous Improvement (CI) Programme in Your Business

Whether you’re new to the world of continuous improvement, you’re in the middle of a programme, or you’re a CI expert in need of some up-to-date tips on tools, approaches, or implementation, get in touch today to speak with one of our experienced consultants.

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