Monthly Archives: September 2015


Root Cause Analysis

A plant manager walks past the assembly line and notices a puddle of water on the floor. Knowing that the water is a safety hazard, he asks the supervisor to have someone get a mop and clean up the puddle. The plant manager is proud of himself for “fixing” a potential safety problem.

The supervisor, however, is suspicious. He is not sure why the puddle is there. It wasn’t there yesterday. He wonders what caused the puddle to be there today. Therefore, he looks for a root cause by asking ‘why?’ He discovers that the water puddle is caused by a leak in an overhead pipe. He asks ‘why’ again, and discovers that the pipe is leaking because the water pressure is set too high. He asks ‘why?’ again and discovers that the water pressure valve is faulty. He asks ‘why?’ again, and does not get a further answer. The faulty valve is the root cause of the problem. So, the valve is replaced, which solves the symptom of water on the factory floor.

Root cause analysis is a way to identify the ultimate cause of a problem. In the example above, there were many opportunities for solving the wrong problem.

  • The plant manager could have ordered more mops to be available on the factory floor.
  • The supervisor could have ordered that the overhead pipe be replaced.

However, these solutions would ultimately be wasteful and would not have solved the problem since they only addressed symptoms – not the problem itself.

Root cause analysis is usually accomplished by asking a series of ‘why’ questions. Just as the example above illustrates, you ask yourself ‘why’ a problem exists. Then you come up with one or more causes. For each of these causes, ask ‘why’ again. If you can answer that question again, then the first answer is probably a symptom brought on by the more fundamental cause. Continue to ask ‘why’ for each answer until you can no longer generate a logical response. This last answer is likely to be a root cause and is what generates the observed symptoms. You may discover more than one root cause through this analysis.

When you have identified the root cause(s), put an action plan in place to solve the problem. The symptoms should go away as well.

Not every problem has a root cause and root cause analysis is not the right problem-solving technique for all problems. But if you think that there is one underlying cause to your problem, root cause analysis may be the technique for you.

Project Management Tool

Five Project Management Mistakes

#1: Inadequate Planning

I have heard project managers say that the time they spend planning could be better spent actually “doing the work”. This is not right. Before the project work begins, the project manager must make sure that the work is properly understood and agreed to by the project sponsor and key stakeholders. The larger the project, the more important it is that this information be defined formally and explicitly. When you think about it, many project problems can be traced to problems in planning. These include

  • Poor estimates based on not understanding the totality of the work.
  • Lack of scope change management because scope was not properly defined to begin with.
  • Issues occurring because of poor risk management.
  • Missing work because the schedule is not thought out.
  • Not understanding all the stakeholders involved.

It should not be surprising, then, that the best way to avoid this problem is to do a good job of planning the project up-front. There are four main components to the planning process.

  • Defining the work. You need to understand the nature of the project including objectives, scope, assumptions, risks, budget, timeline, organization and overall approach.
  • Understanding the schedule. You should create a  project schedule before the project starts. This is needed to help you determine how to complete the work, and to estimate the total project effort and duration.
  • Estimating costs. You and the sponsor need a good estimate of costs before the project gets going.  
  • Agree on project management processes.This will include how the project manager will manage scope, issues, risks, communication, schedule, etc.

People ask me how much time it takes to complete the project planning. The answer is “sufficient”. You need to spend the time to define the work, create a schedule, estimate the costs and set up the project management processes. If your project is small, this should not take much time. If your project is large the planning may take a long time. In other words, planning is scalable based on the size of the project.

Spending time on good planning ends up taking much less time and effort than having to correct the problems while the project is underway. We all know this to be the case. We just need to practice this on our projects.