Upcoming Cause Mapping Public Workshops

Define Problem
Root Cause Analysis

Step 1.   What’s the Problem? - Definition

Everyone seems to know that defining the problem is the first step in an investigation.  How this is done varies widely.  Some groups write a lengthy problem statement and then debate the wording for 30 minutes or more.  Some identify multiple problems within an incident.  A facilitator should remember that people see problems differently.  When someone states their view of the problem be prepared that someone is going to disagree and offer a different problem.  The word problem is problematic because people use it for whatever they see as the “bad thing.”

To accurately define a failure, there are four simple questions: What is the problem, When did it happen, Where did it happen and How were the overall goals impacted?  Instead of writing a long problem description, simply answer these four questions in an outline format.  Don’t write responses as complete sentences, just short phrases.

The question, How were the overall goals impacted? captures the magnitude of an issue.  The first question was "What’s the problem?" which is the individuals’ point of view.  The organization views the problem as any deviation from the ideal state.  For example, a manufacturing company’s overall goals (ideal state) are typically no safety injuries, no environmental issues, no customer issues, no production problems and no excess materials or labor spending.

The goals that were impacted in a negative way provide the starting point for the analysis.  Step 2 does not start with what people see as "the problem(s)."  The root cause analysis basics begins with the impact to the overall goals.  People see problems differently, but defining every "problem" by how it negatively impacts the goals provides a consistent starting point.  Start with the impact to the overall goals to define your next problem.