When analyzing a problem and determining its root cause, you need to apply logical and critical thinking, analytical skills and calculations to fit pieces together like a puzzle to present a picture that makes sense to the beholder. When fixing a problem, it shouldn’t be enough to just use a band-aid solution – if you fix the symptoms only, the problem is more likely to occur again. You should want to determine the root cause of the problem to ensure that it never happens again. Determining a root cause can be an easy few questions and answers, but here at ISO Update, we want to help you improve your ISO 9001 Root Cause Analysis to ensure your organization is performing at its best.
Determining your Root Cause
A root cause analysis is a technique used to understand and solve a problem. It helps the observer to locate the cause and reason/factors that led to the problem in the first place. Simply put, by performing a root cause analysis you will identify the problem, find its cause and determine what measures should be taken to erase the problem to ensure it won’t happen again.
- What is the problem?
- What are the symptoms?
- What circumstances prompted this problem to arise?
- What caused the problem?
- Are there other problems related to this problem?
Using open-ended questions and continuing to be curious will allow you to determine the actual problem, and its actual cause, not just your initial assumptions. It’s entirely possible your assumption is correct, but ensure you are properly investigating every aspect of the problem and its cause to ensure you are not providing band-aid solutions to problems that aren’t really a problem. The more you polish your ability to question your surroundings, the more your brain will grow its powers of analysis, cause detecting abilities, and potential abilities to root out any problem. Using frameworks and techniques like the 5 Whys – used in the Analyze phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology – can help you organize your thoughts into a rational flow while digging deep into the root cause of a problem.
The 5 Whys & Its Benefits
The 5 Whys Methodology asks you to “Ask Why”. It’s an interview and questioning tactic meant to help in identifying the root cause problem quickly, and logically. Furthermore, it helps in determining the relationship between different root causes, it can be learned quickly and doesn’t require statistical analysis. The first rule of thumb for determining any cause of the problem is understanding the fundamental issue. It consists of identifying what exactly is the problem.
Let’s consider an example – Problem Statement: You are on your way to work and your car stops in the middle of the road.
1. Why did your car stop?
- Because it ran out of gas.
2. Why did it run out of gas?
- Because I didn’t buy any gas on my way to work.
3. Why didn’t you put gas in your car on your way to work?
- Because I was running late
4. Why were you running late to work?
- Because I over-slept
5. Why did you over-sleep?
- Because I worked late last night working overtime.
6. Why did you work overtime
- Because I need more money to afford XYZ
Interesting. Here we learnt that our employees are late to work and losing sleep because they feel they need to work overtime to afford something. What was an original assumption that a person was lazy or unreliable to work, is actually a person struggling and needing more money to enjoy their life outside of work. What may have been a management decision to discipline a late employee now becomes a discussion on employee work satisfaction, wages and overtime best practices. Do not restrict yourself to 5 Why’s, and sometimes 5 is too many, instead use this method to help find answers, ask more questions, and stop asking why when you are satisfied you have valid information to work from.
Why should companies embrace root cause? According to ERIC RIES of Harvard Business Review, there are four benefits
- It helps find the human problem.
- Determine the time to fix the problem.
- Prevent operational problems.
- Find your optimal pace of work.
Improving your Analysis
A good way to start expanding your analytical skills is through the power of the observation. The more you expose yourself to different ideas, the more you’ll increase your own cognitive abilities. Analysis is more of a learned skill, like Sherlock Holmes, a powerful observation could reveal to you the most deeply hidden secrets and faults. It’s about honing your skills, keeping your eyes open to the minor details and then filing them away one by one like puzzle pieces. Done properly all the data you store up in your brain will present itself to be sorted in order.
After completing your Root Cause Analysis and learning Why? the next step is figuring out How? How did your system allow this problem to happen? – How to place the data you have collected in its proper order? How to properly do things moving forward? Answering this will help determine the correct order and importance of the events you need to complete to correct your system. Improving your Root Cause Analysis with the 5 Why’s and finding the root of a problem and not just fixing a problem with a band-aid will help your overall business and most likely increase employee morale. Strive to constantly improve your analysis skills by practising your problem-solving skills. Ask questions of your employees and interested parties, and care about their answers. Collect information in the most simple ways – observe your everyday organization, their problems, their triumphs and collect data, categorize everything and then go deeper to the root of the problem to rule out all the symptoms that are causing the problems in the first place. Improve your root cause analysis by always staying curious.
To the novice quality manager, ISO jargon can be extremely overwhelming. What is an NCR? What do you mean by OFI? Are we certified or accredited? But before you go and pull out your hair, let’s take a moment to go over some of the most frequently used terms and their definitions with regards to ISO and Management System Certification.