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Guiding Root Cause Analysis

Finding the cause behind undesirable events takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

There are many techniques. Applying them can be frustrating though, and people can easily get together with good intentions and leave feeling helpless. Managers that understand the process but can’t communicate it only make things worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can unlock an incredible amount of team creativity with root-cause tools. There are really only two keys to this, and I can help you with both.

First of all,  minimal business systems have to be in place. When you “root cause” a problem you’re trying to find out why something went wrong. You cannot adequately describe what went wrong if you are at all unclear about what “right” looks like.

You must be clear about the difference between an undesirable situation and a defect. Root cause analysis is for defects; and a defect is only a defect if it is a deviation from an agreed-on specification such as a blueprint or a procedure.

If you have an undesirable situation, the first step is to trace it to – or just decide on – the parts of the business that need improvement. Define the desired outcomes and the processes that ensure them. Now you can communicate beyond all doubt what the situation should look like, and a deviation can be subjected to root cause analysis in order to develop a countermeasure.

The second and most important piece of effective root-causing is the facilitator. This person needs to understand both the specification in question and the business itself. The specification will allow him to understand the problem; but without a high-level business view he may overlook system weaknesses that allowed the defect to be produced. He must severely stick to a logical cause-and-effect flow and be able to draw out information and ideas from the people who operate the process being reviewed. You need such a person on your staff, and the skills are learned through experience and mentoring. When you engage me or one of my colleagues for root cause analysis, we will first ensure that the minimal systems are in place, and then require you to name an internal champion who will take over the role when you outgrow our services.

While that person’s skills are developing, our experience and methods will help your team establish what’s really not working and help come up with things to do about it.

Book a free strategy session and we’ll help you decide on your best next step.