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How to Find the Root Cause of Your Problem Before Deploying a Solution

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Published January 19, 2015

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Picture of Ryan Walcott

Ryan Walcott
a Rhythm Consultant

I recently experienced some difficult and expensive home repairs that reminded me of an important factor in problem solving and troubleshooting:  Understand the root cause of your problem before applying a solution.  

I've known this, applied it in the business world, and coached my clients in this for years, but for some 11232564_6daf261f30_zreason, I got ahead of myself regarding my kitchen issue and paid the price.

The story starts with a dishwasher that stopped working.  The dishwasher was totally unresponsive.  The controls no longer lit up or beeped.  Simple enough.  

Now for most people a broken dishwasher may not be that big of a deal, but for the Walcott family this is huge.  We are a family of 10 and home school our children.  We run our dishwasher twice daily to keep up with the immense volume of cleaning needed for such a large tribe like mine.  :-)

I put on my handyman hat and started troubleshooting the problem.  I checked the switch and it was on.  This same switch controls my disposal and the disposal was functioning properly.  I then checked the circuit breaker which also was on.  Strange.  No power in the dishwasher unit, but the breaker and switch were on.  My assumption based on that data was that the dishwasher itself was broken and needed to be replaced.  The unit was seven years old and pretty loud, so I was eager to order a new one.  It was a nice Bosch unit that I got a sweet deal on for around $800.

To install the new dishwasher, I had to disconnect the water supply.  So I turned off the water to the old dishwasher.  When I did that, the gasket in the water cut-off valve cracked and sent hundreds of plastic parts into my kitchen sink faucet.  The faucet got jammed up with the parts and needed to be replaced.

So now I have cascading kitchen failure.  A broken dishwasher, faulty cut-off valve, and a jammed faucet.  Not only do I have no dishwasher, but I don't have a functioning kitchen sink either!  Houston, we have big problems here.

At this point I decided I had messed up enough and needed to call in a professional to deal with the plumbing issue and to install the new cut-off valve and faucet.  That cost me nearly $700.  Ouch!  Didn't see that bill coming.

So far I've spent $1,500 and the new dishwasher hasn't even arrived yet.

The dishwasher finally arrived and the whole family was excited to not have to wash dishes by hand anymore.  I proudly broke out my tools and got to work installing the new unit.  I hook everything up according to the instructions, check all the connections, turn on the power and water.  I proudly made a big announcement to Katie and the kids that the problem was solved and turned on the dishwasher.  Nothing.  Nothing happened.  I was at a total loss at this point.  What was going on?  All that work.  All that money spent, and I still didn't have a dishwasher that worked.

So again I punted and called-in a professional.  Thankfully, a neighbor of mine is an electrician and was glad to help me.  He looked at the situation and determined in less than a minute that I had a faulty switch to the dishwasher that needed to be replaced.  A one minute diagnosis determined that I had one faulty part which costs about $6.

So the moral of the story is this:  Hasty and uninformed decisions led to faulty conclusions that cost me $1,500 to fix a $6 problem.

Use 5 Whys to Uncover a Problem's Root Cause

I should have followed my own coaching advice to get to the root cause of my problem by asking myself "Why?" five times.  This technique is commonly known as the "5 Whys."

Asking yourself and your team the question "How/What/Why?" five times is a highly effective way to get to the root cause of any problem.  Sadly, most of us get impatient and stop at about 2 or 3 "Why?" questions thinking we have the right answer.  We eagerly deploy resources towards solutions that miss the target of fixing the root cause of the problem.  We need to go deeper to understand the root cause of the issue before deploying resources on a solution.

Our KPI Creator Tool can help you do this exercise to discover the right Results and Leading Indicator KPIs to drive your business growth.

So the next time you are experiencing pain or a problem at work or at home, don't be so quick to deploy a solution.  First stop and ask yourself and your team "How/What/Why?" about 5 times to peel back the onion and get to the root cause of the problem.  Then you will be ready to think on and deploy the RIGHT solution.  Deploying the right solution the first time will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration.

Helping you grow, Ryan

P.S. - The new dishwasher and faucet are much better than the old ones, and everyone lived happily ever after.  :-)


Rhythm Systems KPI Creator Tool (Key Performance Indicators)