How do you get to the heart of a problem to really understand what is causing it?
Root Cause Problem Solving (RCPS) provides a tried and tested method to support the identification of root causes and how to approach potential solutions.
The 8 steps provide a structure to work through the problem you are trying to solve. You may come across terms such as ‘A3’ or ‘8D’ problem solving, but the approach is similar.
1. Current Condition
The key questions to ask are what do you know and how do you know it? What is the background to the problem at hand? Don’t just rely word of mouth; look at what the data is telling you and go and see where the problem is happening, as this can give you another perspective. A good sense check is to reflect on the situation and ask the “so what?” question; why is something a problem?
2. Problem Statement
Developing a clear and structured problem statement is critical to summarising the issue. Strong problem statements include the nature and scale of the problem, the impact of it, and where it occurs. Don’t suggest the cause yet, as you don’t necessarily know it. If you have a hypothesis, save it for point 4. Try to be clear about the problem, and only try to solve one problem at a time.
Define what you want to achieve and by when. Set yourself a SMART objective to agree your target condition. Run this by your sponsor if you have one.
4. Root Cause Analysis
This is where you can start to break down the issue itself. Using techniques such as ‘5 whys’ and ‘Fishbone’ analysis can be really useful, and provide more insight than simply mind mapping. It’s a good opportunity to hold a workshop with relevant SME’s to run through these types of exercises. Develop your hypothesis and use data and ‘going to see’ the problem to validate it to ensure you are heading in the right direction. For example, if you drill a problem down to a glitch in the system, go and see it to check if you are right.
5. Proposed Solutions.
Generate solutions which specifically target the problem. A workshop environment can be ideal for this, as can the use of creative techniques to free up people’s thinking. Asking yourself ‘how would Apple solve this problem?’ can open new thinking when you consider how radical the original iPhone design was – a futuristic mobile device with one key button and no instruction manual! It’s good to come up with a variety of solutions, which you can then prioritise. Map these back to the problem to ensure you are addressing the right thing.
Document the envisaged benefits of the solution/s. This will help you gain sign off or build a business case. ‘Hard’ benefits may be financial, time or quality savings, which should be clearly evidenced and tracked. ‘Soft’ benefits may be things such as improved communications or customer experience.
7. Implementation Plan
Draw up a time bound action plan of who does what, and by when. Consider any potential risks, dependencies and governance. You may want to pilot the solution first before risking a major change. Don’t forget to communicate any change to those who will be affected by it.
Finally, consider how you might monitor progress to track realisation of the benefits. Remember to check to see if the problem has been resolved. If it hasn’t, return to step one to repeat the cycle.