Root Cause Analysis is Over-Rated – What to Do Instead

A car that won’t start requires root cause analysis. But people development and culture building may not.

We spend too much time asking ‘why’ and not enough time exploring ‘what’. If your team is underperforming, ask yourself what high-performance teams do and do that.

Man facing an elephant.

The real issue with recurring problems is courage to confront reality.

Reasons as distraction:

Why is your team underperforming?

You don’t have enough money! You have too much to do! Well, all teams would enjoy more money, and everyone has too much to do. Now what?

Don’t focus on what you can’t do and don’t have.

The challenge is doing something today in service of incremental improvement.

Reasons as excuse:

‘Why’ is dangerous when it becomes an excuse. The question, “Why did you hit your sister?” invites an excuse for hitting.

You don’t need to know why an employee is always late. You need a simple solution, not a complicated excuse.

Simple solutions are often shot down by brilliant knuckleheads who don’t understand that progress is always imperfect and incremental.

Root cause:

Problems that keep coming back call for root cause analysis. Have you been dealing with the same issue over and over? Three possibilities…

#1. You are the problem.

What do you know about a problem that won’t go away, even though you’re trying to solve it? You know that your solution isn’t working! Admit you’re wrong and develop a different strategy.

The real issue with recurring problems is courage to confront reality.

#2. The process is broken.

When results always fall short, change your expectations and/or change the process. Dig into ‘how’ and ‘why’ something went wrong. Don’t focus on people.

#3. People are incompetent.

Repeated failure reflects incompetence. Who needs development and how soon can you get it going?

When it comes to people-challenges, define problems in terms of behaviors.

How might leaders quickly implement imperfect solutions?

When is root cause analysis necessary?

Resource: A simple root cause analysis template from Mindtools.