Lean Consulting and Training


Problem-Solving: Root Cause Analysis

One of the most common mistakes organizations make is seeking solutions prior to conducting a root cause analysis. Too often organizations assume they know specifically what the problem is. Typically this leads to treating symptoms rather than eliminating the problem. Additionally we find that individuals are often blamed for problems with no regard to the actual source of a problem. Either way, two very critical problem-solving rules are broken.

  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Accurately identify the problem before taking action

Unfortunately, businesses throw away a great deal of time and money putting patches on problems only to see the problem resurface with a vengeance. First, one must realize that the a problem can be caused by either man, material, method, machine, or environment and the root cause is not always obvious.

For an example I often refer to a recent project in which we were called in to develop a training program for machine operators. We were also asked to develop an effective method for selecting machine operators. In other words, they wanted assistance in predicting the performance of candidates and a formal training program.

The client stated that turnover was high and that nearly all operators had difficulty performing the job. All but a limited few found the job to be overwhelming. The client claimed the problem was the inability to find candidates capable of performing the job. They were extremely disappointed in their machine operators.

The client had spent thousands of dollars on assessment tools and development of recruiting methods. They were convinced that they knew what the problem was. Our initial recommendation to conduct a root cause analysis was met with resistance. After all, they had previously examined the problem through brainstorming and the use of fishbone diagrams (which by the way is a valuable tool).

How could we, outsiders unfamiliar with the specific problem, suggest the possibility that they have not identified the problem? They were not fond of investing more money toward identifying the problem. We were hired to perform specific tasks; develop an effective selection strategy and a formal training program. In response, I boldly went out on a limb. If they agreed to allow us to conduct a root cause analysis, and found they were correct in their assumption, they would not be billed for the analysis. Additionally, we would design a selection method and training program at half of our quoted price. The possibility of saving money was evidently appealing for we were given the go-ahead. Through our root cause analysis we identified the "real" problem. In this case two problems were identified. The issue was resolved through a simple tooling modification and workload balancing. The tooling modification required less than a $500 investment and the workload balancing, and accompanying training, was complete in less than one week.

The immediate advantages were that we were able to reduce our quoted price by 48%, time required for completion was reduced drastically, 60% scrap/defect reduction, delivery times were reduced by 52%, and employees were highly motivated and happy with the improvements.

The client, having saved money, asked that we offer training on the root cause analysis method we used for this project. In this case we had used Shingo's "5-Why" analysis, a simple yet highly effective tool.

Outcomes such as this are why we often ask clients to move beyond assumptions. There are many root cause analysis tools. Why spend outrageous amounts of time and money treating symptoms or blaming individuals when through proper analysis one can more effectively identify and resolve problems?

For assistance in identifying and correcting problems, or root cause analysis training feel free to contact us.

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