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.
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:
The question, “Why did you hit your sister?” invites an excuse for hitting.
‘Why’ is dangerous when it becomes an excuse.
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.
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.
Good morning, Dan. I anticipate your email every morning and it truly helps me focus on one aspect of my leadership each day. Let me also take a minute to publicly thank you for joining our administrative retreat this year. Your message was amazing and really drove home our priorities for the year. Keep those tips coming!
Good morning, Eddie. Thank you for your kind words. It was a pleasure to meet you and serve your team. Cheers!
A title like this will get anyone to click. I was thinking, “now what the heck is this guy talking about now? No RCA?!” I appreciate how you always combat complacency.
Someone I once worked with gave me important advice: never ask why. All that does is give people a reason to unload as they try shift the burden of responsibility elsewhere. His sage words came from years of working with others struggling with addiction. To him, it was all about the what, not the why.
When I moved into the world of occupational health and safety, I found there’s a time and place for root cause analysis – typically when something really bad has happened at a risk or safety sensitive worksite and an investigation is needed. Always focus on the issue, not the person(s) involved as you seek to understand the chain of events that led to the event. Resist the urge to point fingers by asking the right questions: what happened, what didn’t go right, what could we have done differently, and so on. The coaching moments happen afterwards as the focus eventually shifts to the people involved.
Your insight reminds me of the Stockdale Paradox: “Maintain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties; and always confront the brutal realities of your current situation, whatever they may be” as relayed by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.”
I continue to use this adage to this day, for, as you will note, the concept of “why” is not even considered. It doesn’t matter why the current situation is the way it is, it just is. Deal with it, and find a way to achieve one’s objective. Period.
Dan – Many thanks for another great daily insight. I enjoy them every day with my early cup of coffee.