One of my all-time favorite movies is 1993’s Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors repeatedly relives the same day until he eventually gets it right.  Phil has a luxury that we seldom get in real life, in that he gets to apply lessons learned from one bad experience to the next without having to carry over any of the consequences.  A true do-over! 

Here are five principles organizations and individuals should apply to avoid reliving bad experiences and dealing with their new, sometimes worse consequences. 

  1. Find the REAL source of the problem
  2. Don’t assume the problem is isolated
  3. Identify solid long-term fixes, rather than band-aids
  4. Implement fixes promptly and correctly 
  5. Ensure fixes remain in place until no longer needed

Each of these principles lends itself to a lengthy discussion, so I’ll limit this blog to Principle #1: Find the REAL source of the problem.

People are better at day-to-day problem solving than we typically give them credit for.  If something bad happens in the workplace or at home, we can often draw upon our knowledge and experience to correctly identify the immediate source of the problem without taking a deeper dive.  Seat-of the pants analysis, which I refer to as CAS-U-AL Analysis, works fine for most problems we encounter in a typical day where being wrong results in little or no consequences.  When it comes to problems that have moderate or significant consequences, or could easily have under slightly different circumstances, we need to increase the odds that we accurately identify its source(s) by performing CAUSE Analysis.

Cause Analysis takes many forms, which vary in rigor and approach, such as Root Cause Analysis, Facilitated Improvement Teams, Apparent Cause Evaluations, etc.  Whatever approach we use must include methods that help us slow down and systematically asses the problem, resulting in a deeper and more complete understanding of it and its source(s) than we would normally be capable of attaining.  While a solid methodology is key, effective Cause Analysis is more dependent on two things: 1) how well individuals performing the analysis understand and integrate human and organizational performance (HOP) principles as they go; and 2) how well the management team who will review and act on their analysis understand and appreciate HOP principles.  Lacking these elements, organizations and individuals are too often satisfied with shallow conclusions that human error or equipment failure caused the problem, rather than recognizing these conditions as symptomatic of systemic weaknesses in organizational values, processes, etc. that must be sought out and eliminated to avoid a repeat occurrence.

For the past six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside the great folks at Fisher Improvement Technologies (FIT) to develop Cause Analysis approaches that integrate solid methodologies with the practical application of HOP principles.  We’d love to help if your organization is stuck reliving the same old problems and, like Phil Connors, would like to get it right so you can move on.  Please visit www.improvewithfit.com to learn more about the products and services FIT offers, including how to enroll in our upcoming Cause Analysis Workshops.  You can also contact me directly via LinkedIn or by sending an email to rick.foote@improvewithfit.com.

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