Next Generation Root Cause Analysis

During the 1980/1990’s and in many organisations, unsolved problems were no option. Root cause analysis delivered the root causes of problems. In turn, this provided the insights to solve the problems once and for all. In the increasingly complex world, however, root cause analysis identified too many causes. It didn’t work well anymore. In its place came best practices and ongoing process improvement. Initially, it worked. But in today’s world, environments change quicker than processes can be updated and tested.

In this situation we adapted root cause analysis to focus on high-impact problems and used patterns where data, mathematics and spreadsheets fell short. It delivered causes and insights today’s practices (traditional and advanced) had missed. Some of those turned out to be at such fundamental level that they delivered breakthrough results in areas that had not been analysed.

Examples of fundamental and common root causes we found:

  1. S-curve The root cause of crippling bureaucracy and overwhelming complexity
  2. Executives and managers must make decisions while the guidance to what works in today’s world is too difficult to find.
  3. A communication gap between central organizations and the field. Indicators for such a gap:
    • Too many hits with Intranet search.
    • Outdated or conflicting strategies, standards, processes and protocols.
    • Insufficient compliance in the field.
    • Lessons learned being lost.
    • A crippling bureaucracy and/or overwhelming complexity.
  4. The alternative routeCapacity bottlenecks/traffic jams and their devastating impact: a known phenomenon in complex systems but little attention in the virtual and complex world of processes, IT applications, hierarchies and in brain research.

About Eugen Oetringer

Driven to find Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges. Especially interested when earlier improvement attempts have delivered insufficient results.
This entry was posted in Bridging the Gap, Leadership, Root Cause Analysis. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Next Generation Root Cause Analysis

  1. The four problems Eugen listed are wicked problems. The answers that are generated are in flux just as the environment is in flux. The most successful way I have found to work is to approach organization’s as if they are living systems and the people within them as the source of all creativity, energy and vitality that the organization needs to succeed. In this approach we engage in deep, structured conversations with all those who are involved about these wicked problems, come up with answers and keep learning. We can live in the ambiguity of our situations quite successfully, moving in the dynamic dance of the environmental flux.
    Richard N Knowles, Ph.D.


  2. I think we are in line here: One of the ‘tricks’ is to use these route causes as patterns instead of something fixed. That means they can be adjusted to the given situation easily. This way, they turned out to be pretty stable stable. The same applies to the guidance and solutions derived from the root causes ..


  3. HI Eugen,
    I think we are close as well. The system needs to know itself in order to be able to function this way. The structured dialogue involving people from all levels enable this to happen. How do you do this?
    Who are the people do you find who are interested to talk with you?
    Richard N Knowles, Ph.D.


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