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Root Cause Problems

A framework that I find helpful is the “5 why” framework. When dealing with a hard issue, try to dig deep and ask “why” at each level of depth. You can sometimes get to the root cause within 3 whys; certainly for simpler problems. Harder problems require further depth.

Here’s a good story – teacher and parents interaction.

Problem: Kids are always late to school.

Teacher meets with parents to find out why and how to solve the issue. Here’s how the interaction goes.

Parents: kids are late to school because we wake up late in the morning.

Teacher: why?

Parents: Because we go to bed late.

Teacher: why?

Parents: Because we come home from work late and it takes time to settle in.

Teacher: why?

Parents: Because we have to stay late at work.

Teacher: why?

Parents: Because of optics and because our boss leaves late. We feel guilty for leaving before them.

Teacher: why?

Parents: Because we don’t like our jobs, have struggled to perform at work and have to play the optics game to show effort and keep our job.

Bingo! We now know the root cause.

Trivial answer would be getting less sleep and waking up early, but it wouldn’t solve the root cause problem. The way to solve the problem in a systematic way is for parents to find work that allows a better work life integration.

Companies and organizations can apply this framework to most problems. Root causes are sometimes harder to identify. It requires dialogue between people / groups. So, when in doubt, dig deeper and ask the “5 whys.”

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