Today’s root cause tip will walk through a few popular quick-idea based root cause analysis techniques used by many.

Do a quick search using Google or Yahoo search engines for “Root Cause Analysis Training” and these techniques often pop up in your internet browser: 5-Whys, Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagrams, Brainstorming and of course, TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis. Now type in “free” or “quick root cause analysis templates” and you will not find TapRooT®. Is that good or bad? Of course my dad always taught me that what is earned and worked for was always more satisfying and led to a stronger sense of accomplishment. The end product also lasted longer.

Brainstorming

Why would a person search for root cause analysis training on the Internet? If I were to brainstorm the whys as defined in dictionary.reference.com:

 noun

– a sudden impulse, idea, etc.

– a fit of mental confusion or excitement. 

Origin

-1890-95; brain + storm; originally a severe mental disturbance

Then I might suggest the following “whys”:

  1. The person was bored.
  2. A student was doing research.
  3. A training department was assigned to find and schedule quick low cost training techniques that can be taught online.
  4. You were assigned to find good root cause training to solve problems.

Now those weren’t too many suggestions on my part. But there is hope, because brainstorming is best served in groups. As defined in wikeipedia.org:

Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.

But we have to establish a few rules per wikipedia.org:

  1. Focus on quantity…. The more the merrier.
  2. Withhold criticism…. No why is a bad why and you might shut down the quantity given by others that were made fun of.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas
  4. Combine and improve ideas… we can build off other peoples’ whys for a really good why to solve a problem.

Okay with our new rules and group in place, we came up with more whys to why someone was searching for root cause analysis on the internet:

  1. The person was bored.
  2. A student was doing research.
  3. A training department was assigned to find schedule quick low cost training techniques that can be taught online.
  4. You were assigned to find good root cause training to solve problems.
  5. The current root cause techniques are not working very well.
  6. You are planning a party and this would be a great team game. (This one was my favorite suggestion)

Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagrams

Brainstorming not quite good enough in our quest to solve why people are searching for root cause analysis on the internet you think? Let’s do a guided search for whys with our group using a Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram.

Fishbone1stgraphic
Now this tool also comes with some rules:

  1. Agree on a problem statement as a group. Ours is “why are people searching for root cause analysis on the internet?”
  2. The problem statement is placed at the head of the fish as seen in the diagram above.
  3. Now Brainstorm the major categories of the cause of the problem and list them underneath each category. For our fishbone from wikipedia.org, we are going use Methods, Machines, Material and Measurements.

a. Methods: How the process is performed and the specific requirements for doing it, such as policies, procedures, rules, regulations and laws

b. Machines: Any equipment, computers, tools, etc. required to accomplish the job

c. Materials: Raw materials, parts, pens, paper, etc. used to produce the final product

d. Measurements: Data generated from the process that are used to evaluate its quality

 Caution, there are many categories to chose from which may lead the group into different directions each time they use one. We could have also used the categories as listed in wikipedia.org:

The 7 P’s

Product/Service
Price
Place
Promotion
People/personnel
Process
Physical Evidence
 
The 5 S’s
Surroundings
Suppliers
Systems
Skills
Safety

Here is our refined fishbone. I have to admit, it does look a little better than the brainstorming list above. Did not take that much time at all.

2ndimage

  1. As each idea is given, the facilitator writes it as a branch from the appropriate category.
  • Again ask “why does this happen?” about each cause.
  • Write sub-causes branching off the causes. Continue to ask “Why?” and generate deeper levels of causes. Layers of branches indicate causal relationships.

Item number 4 gets into looking for causal relationships within our suggested causes which leads into our 5 whys discussion next.

5 Whys

Let’s take one of the “causes” listed above and get to a good root cause with our group to understand why people are searching for root cause analysis on the internet?

Here are the simple instructions for performing a 5 Whys as listed in wikipedia.org:

5 Whys is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each question forms the basis of the next question.

  1. Why are people searching for root cause analysis on the internet?

Answer: Because there is no database to search in on their computer and the boss wants training answers now.

  1. Why is there no database on the computer to search from?

 Answer: Because these are computers produced in 1995 and a knowledge database cannot be installed.

  1. Why do we not have new computers that can have databases installed?

 Answer the company is short money.

  1. Why is there no money left to purchase computers?

Answer: Because we have lost money on repeat incidents.

  1. Why do we have repeat incidents?

Answer: Because we do not have a good, effective, cost reducing Root Cause Analysis Process. I have a great solution for this problem….. look here for future courses in TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis.

Okay, I agree this was a very high level and superficial exploration of the 3 Popular Quick Idea Based Root Cause Analysis Techniques: 5-Whys, Fishbone Diagrams and Brainstorming.

However, the steps that we explored are valid steps and flow of the actual processes. The ending results from superficial creation of whys are very true and have been the cause for repeat problem occurrences.

If you are going to use these process, as they are often still required for everyday issue resolution for some and for others are actually considered their only root cause tools, then head off some of the issues with a couple of these best practice suggestions.

  1. Never start with Brainstorming. This is a great tool for suggesting corrective actions tied to actual root causes, but should not be used for evidence collection and figuring out why something happened.

What to do instead? Go Out And Look (GOAL). Never armchair troubleshoot from a conference table surrounded by people.

  1. Only use a Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram if:

a. You have collected evidence
b. You standardized and defined your fishbone cause categories
c. You have the right experts in the room
d. Cause or Corrective action ideas do not drive the actual what and why questions.

  1. Only use 5 Whys for trying to identify the actions or inactions that allowed an issue to occur and not the actual root causes. Why?

a. There is a tendency to look for only one cause when using the process; even if you ask 5 Whys for each action or inaction found on the Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagram, there is still a tendency to look for only one cause in each section. I have never just had one cause for any problem that I have investigated.
b. It is not how many questions one asks but what one asks.
c. When used to collect evidence or understand evidence, there is a tendency for “group think” to occur that drives which direction the evidence and causation linkage goes. Look up the Space Shuttle issue tied to the o-ring failure for a group think example that was detrimental to life.
d. There is nothing to push the investigations outside what they know as a whole and what may be missing from the investigation. In that case, always bring in different knowledgeable and people new to the problem for constant checks and rechecks. Also look for outside industry best practices and knowledge to help get better investigations completed.

So in closing…..

  1. If it looks too easy and requires less work, you get what you put in it.
  2. If there is a large amount of guessing, you are also guessing at the corrective action.
  3. If the right expert is not in the room when using the tools explored, nobody will know what to ask or to verify.
  4. If the people using the process are the only thing driving the evidence collection, bias has a stronger natural tendency to take over.

I look forward to your examples of using these processes and also comments on some of the traps you did or did not avoid while using these 3 tools.