Thursday, December 17, 2009

the Be Cause and other inhibitors to good problem solving

Practical Problem Solving (PPS) is the methodology that Toyota teaches to everyone on how to approach and solve problems.  It follows the PDCA cycle and is very similar to the 6 Sigma Green Belt Training which follows the DMAIC cycle.  I know, I’ve taught both. 

The process is pretty simple and straight forward.  This leads to the question, then why do organizations have so many problems and what’s keeping them from effectively solving their problems?

There are a lot of reasons for this, many of which are the be causes.  First, because there are people involved and people don’t like change.  Especially when a problem is involved with the change, people feel threatened that what they’re doing is wrong and feel a need to defend their position.  Which leads to the next reason.

The history cause, because we’ve always done it that way.  This is where opponents will often try to use lean tools like standard work against you.  They’ll explain that they’re just following the standard for consistency and it’s always been done this way and worked just fine in the past.

Then there’s the Lemming cause, because everyone else is doing it!  There’s safety in numbers!  Yes Mom, we all jumped off the collective bridge and ended up here and you can’t possibly take us all on.

And the whipper snapper cause, because you’re new and don’t know all the reasons we have to do it this way.  Really?  Please explain.  The history lesson is often useful to understand the politics and will also help you understand what temporary detours and work arounds were put in place that became part of the embedded infrastructure.

The charity cause, because we don’t have the money.  It’s easy to throw lots of money at a problem and hope for a solution.  But often, the best solutions are the ones that involve a cross functional team and fosters innovation.

The hearing cause, because no one listens to me.  This is legitimate and a great opportunity to gain an ally by including them as part of the team to study and make changes.

There are lots of causes that inhibit good problem solving.  However, within the PPS model there are only three.  You need to cut through all the other causes to understand the Point of Cause, the Direct Cause and the Root Cause.

The Point of Cause is where you first know you have a problem.  This might be a physical location or a certain screen within a program.  This is the starting point for your problem solving.

As you track back through your issue, you will come to the direct cause.  The direct cause is the thing that is actually causing the problem, like having two programs open at once causes your system to crash.  There is a huge red flag to watch for here, which is the fake solution or workaround.  You will frequently hear at this point, ‘oh yeah, that happens all the time, here’s how you “fix” that’.  You can look for phrases like this and use them to help you identify your direct cause.

Now, you’re finally on your way to finding, the root cause!  Yes the real issue at hand that will address your issue.

So as you go through your problem solving activities, you will have to be courageous and fight through the becauses, be diligent and keep pushing.  You will be rewarded by finally discovering the true causes, Point of Cause, Direct Cause and Root Cause.


  1. Great post. Many problem solving tools get rolled out one after in organizations. The next problem solving tool often isn't better than the last one. Most of them work just fine. The problem is with the understanding of their use and the behaviors people exhibit when thinking about problems.

    I think people get themselves into trouble before they even pick up a tool in that they don't have high agreement about what a problem even is and which one they should solve. I'll survey 5 members of the same team and 4 of them will give a different list of priority problems and the 5th says "we don't have an problems."

    We need to improve how people write problem statements, which I wrote about in my column here:

    and we also need to teach people the difference between solving spot surface problems instead of systems problems. You talk about that above and I think it is a key issue. I talk about it here:

  2. Nice post. There are too many reasons (excuses) that prevent us from solving problems effectively. Jamie makes some great points but I would also add that defining the problem statement effectively is critical. I wrote about this here:

    Tim McMahon
    A Lean Journey Blog