The Shainin problem-solving method is known for its "Red X," the term used for the single major flaw in a system or component. In fact, Dorian Shainin developed a number of concepts and mathematical formulas aimed at isolating quality problems. Some tools used in Shainin's systems can be found in other systems and measurements. One example is the Pareto chart - named for Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto - which ranks critical quality issues in order of importance.
Other parts of Shainin methodology are considered trade secrets or proprietary technology. Shainin LLC fiercely protects its licensing rights and trade names. The company has trademarked most of its concepts, including the Red X and its counterpart, the Green Y.
Dick Shainin says the Green Y represents the intended performance of a component, like the path a driver intends a car to follow.
The Red X, meanwhile, represents the single most powerful input that changes that course, like the steering wheel of the car.
Shainin methodology also uses what it calls a BOB (best-of-the-best) and WOW (worst-of-the-worst) analysis of parts. The theory is that within any batch of parts that meets the design specification, there are some really good parts and some almost bad parts.
In one case, Shainin employees were called in by an engine maker to determine why engines in a batch overheated. The cause couldn't be found inside the engine, and all external components met design specifications.
But when Shainin testers tried swapping cooling pumps and cooling manifolds they discovered that if a "worst-of-the-worst" cooling manifold and cooling pump ended up on the same engine, the unit would overheat. Preventing that combination elimi-nated the problem.
"'Killed the Red X' is terminology we use," Dick Shainin says. "In most cases, once you understand the Red X, you're done and the problem is solved. What makes a Shainin project is laying out the strategy and working in an efficient way from Y to X."
The methodology is "the best in the world" at defining a problem, says Don Mitchell, former executive director of quality for GM North American Operations. Mitchell now works as a consultant at American Supplier Institute in Livonia, Mich.
"Most of GM's suppliers use Shainin because GM has been using it for so many years," Mitchell says. "GM's clearly the leader, and Chrysler is the second-largest user of any company in the United States."
Mitchell says Shainin is great at solving technical problems as long as there are faulty parts to find. "It's an excellent tool, but you don't use it on everything," he says.
Simply detecting the problem isn't enough. To prove that the solution works, Shainin asks engineers to solve the problem and then make it occur again.
"You should be able to make it work like a light switch - on, off, on, off - to show that you've found the actual root cause," Dick Shainin says.
Shainin LLC certifies engineers and executives with a broad range of titles, from "Red X Journeyman" and "Master" through the com-pany's "Top 5 Executive" level. Like the range of Six Sigma belts, each title represents a different level of experience, as well as success with projects and an ability to teach others.
Each one means that the engineer or executive has been a successful detective and has found and "killed" the Red X. If there's a secondary problem to be pursued, Shainin calls it a Pink X.
Many consultants claim to use Shainin techniques, but not all are competent or certified to do so.
"The problem of people thinking they're using our technology when they're not led us to develop the whole certification system," Dick Shainin says.