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Root Cause Analysis??? But don’t we have Six Sigma?

21st August 2018

In our search for ever greater reliability, efficiency and performance we know it’s likely for organisations to consider an effective Six Sigma program as a reliable and effective improvement methodology.

In our search for ever greater reliability, efficiency and performance we know it’s likely for organisations to consider an effective Six Sigma program as a reliable and effective improvement methodology. But we also know that many organisations are extremely impatient, restless if a project is too time-consuming and quick to become concerned that their investment won’t ever pay off.

Armed with this knowledge, how do we head-off this all-too-frequent scenario? One well documented solution is via embedding a high-quality and evidence-based Root Cause Analysis (RCA) method at the heart of a Six Sigma project. Done well, this will empower problem solvers and continuous improvement teams to dramatically boost their Six Sigma results. Providing faster, more accurate and more effective solutions to senior management reduces the inevitable pressures from leadership, executives and shareholders – leveraging vital time and support from an impatient organisation.

But why is this? What does an effective Root Cause Analysis method add to continuous improvement initiatives that are so often missing? To answer this, we should remind ourselves of what Six Sigma and related CI programs set out to achieve as their core mission, namely; to deliver a clearer understanding of processes and reveal the appropriate path towards improved efficiency. Goals they achieve extremely well. However, when they do fall short of expectations the most regularly reported shortcomings of Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen and related programs are centered on the effectiveness of their complex problem-solving components and recurrence prevention capability. Specialists who are well-schooled in a wide range of Cause and Effect methods report that methods like Fishbone, Fault Tree Analysis and Failure Mode Effects Analysis are seen all-too-often as time consuming, frustrating and speculative.

Less robust and logic-driven than evidence-based RCA methods they fail to reveal any significant gaps in team knowledge. In the absence of firm evidence, they are all too easily underpinned by opinion, conjecture and consensus, albeit delivered in a tidier, less ad-hoc, more structured manner than prior to any 6S roll-out. Therefore, the likelihood remains that they don’t fully identify the broader, multiple and hidden causes of significant problems leading to the very real danger that only the symptoms of a problem are being addressed and the root cause of the problems remain, or have, at best, been nudged elsewhere to another process or department in the business. In this scenario any inherent instability remains unresolved while the organisation continues to strive for greater and greater agility. And as we all discover at some point, there is ‘no agility without stability’ at least not in a sustainable manner.

The issue is, when opinion trumps logic, key solutions will often be generated from personal agendas and perspectives above evidence and clearly, the long-term fall out of this is likely to be significant – both for any Six Sigma project and for the organisation as a whole. The result will be growing frustration, coupled with stakeholder disengagement when facts are overlooked, and the solutions fail. Not surprisingly it quickly becomes very difficult to get people to participate when problem solving is both time-consuming and the output is frequently wrong. Equally when improvements do occur they quickly become marginal, difficult to maintain and very hard to repeat or implement at a structural or systemic level. The end game is that senior management starts to question both the process itself, as well as the capability of subject-matter experts, eventually withdrawing support. Inclusion of evidence-based RCA heads-off this doomsday scenario, delivering substantial and measurable Return on Investment from Six Sigma programs via validating and invalidating evidence and by delivering trackable solutions applied at a systemic level. Returning to our aforementioned objectives of stability and agility, the correct blend of Six Sigma and RCA allows agility to increase while the stability of systems is maintained and often improved.

In practice, the reality is that the broader your toolkit, the better prepared you are to tackle the complex problems that businesses face in today’s competitive marketplace. In particular Root Cause Analysis has proven to be especially powerful when working in concert with key components of Six Sigma. If you are looking to enhance your problem solving ability, embed organisation-wide enthusiasm for CI and boost institutional learning, then Root Cause Analysis remains the most powerful method available.

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