traditionally call problems are frequently only symptoms of
problems. For example, the problem of decreased sales is really a
symptom of whatever is causing sales to drop, which is the real
problem. Defining a problem in terms of its symptoms obscures the
real cause and leads to symptomatic solutions that fail to correct
the basic condition.
undesired results caused by structural relationships among system
components. When these relationships are complex and hidden,
traditional problem solving is not effective and another technique
is needed. Root cause problem solving consists of discovering and
correcting these structural relationships. This process is called
leverage and requires a systems approach to identify the system
dynamics creating these outcomes.
Differentiating between problem
symptoms and problem causes
symptoms and problem causes can look very much alike. For example
the cause of a defective product could be identified as a final
inspection problem, a process control problem, or a material
procurement problem, yet all of these could be symptoms of a
management problem. The following process will help identify
fundamental problem causes.
the undesirable condition that needs to be corrected or the events associated with this condition.
2. Use the “multiple why” process to identify the
causes underlying this undesirable condition.
- This process is an adaptation
of a Japanese quality technique. It consists of continually
asking “why is this occurring?” to each explanation and
subsequent explanations until a common cause is identified.
this “multiple why” process until a fundamental or root cause is
- Structural relationships are
identified when the explanation changes from one system
component to another.
- Example, the
explanation for homelessness moves from society (unemployment)
to the individual (addiction) or when the explanation for a
quality problem moves from manufacturing (defective product) to
procurement (improper material).
simplified root cause problem solving process
1. Select the most
significant problem symptom and ask, “Why is this occurring?”
- Describe the symptoms using all
the specific facts and data available. This will enable a more
focused examination of the conditions needing correction and a
more precise definition of the problem.
- Example, “Why are we
unable to sustain operating profits higher than our cost of
capital?” is more informative than “Why are our profits down?”
- Record all of the explanations.
2. Repeat this questioning
for each explanation.
- Record and compile all
- Identify any emerging patterns.
3. Continue this process
until these explanations converge into some fundamental causes.
- Avoid fixation on events or on
- Focus on systemic explanations.
4. Define the problem or
problems by describing the root causes creating them.
- Accurate problem definition is
critical for the development of meaningful solutions.
- Identify the system structural
relationships that are creating the conditions that need
5. Determine the action or
actions needed to change the system relationships creating the
problem or problems.
Three Sigma can
help you identify the root causes of recurring problems. Contact