The Apollo Root Cause Analysis methodology is a very effective way of finding the best solutions for event-based problems. The four-step process is proven to get results – as long as you can follow through on each step of the process.
Yet in some organizations, roadblocks get in the way of the crucial fourth step of the Apollo RCA. Before we take a look at why, let’s recap on how this problem-solving methodology works:
- Step 1: Clearly define the problem
- Step 2: Create a Cause and Effect Chart to explain why the problem occurred
- Step 3: Identify effective solutions that will prevent the problem from recurring
- Step 4: Implement and track the best solutions to ensure they are effective
By step 3, you should have chosen a solution (or set of solutions) based on Apollo method’s acceptance criteria:
- The solution prevents the problem from recurring (or the likelihood of a recurrence represents an acceptable risk)
- The solution is within the organization’s control to implement
- The solution is in line with the organization’s goals and objectives
- The solution does not cause other problems
You’re ready to go, complete with a plan to follow-up post-implementation to check that the solution did, indeed, fix the problem.
So far, so good. But too often, organizations fall over at that crucial point when they should be implementing the solution. Here are some of the reasons why.
“We don’t have time for this”
No one has an unlimited amount of time – that’s why prioritized task lists work so well. Question is, how do you get your solutions onto the “we need to do this now” list? One approach is to review the problem definition. It should clearly state why fixing the problem is so important to your organization. What are the consequences each time the problem recurs? Then review the problem definition with decision-makers to ensure they are aware of how it’s impacting the organization.
“It’s not in the budget”
Like time, budgets are finite. And, as above, you may need to redefine the problem to demonstrate the cost to the organization if it’s not fixed. Your job is to make sure that the recommended solution(s) make financial sense and then sell the return on investment to decision-makers.
“We have bigger fish to fry”
Your problem may not represent the biggest challenge facing your organization. Yet the reality is that fixing smaller problems often makes more sense. If you get push-back, make sure the problem definition categories and language are in line with the organization’s goals; and demonstrate to decision-makers how each little win adds up.
“Today’s crisis is yesterday’s old news”
Time does not make the impact of a problem go away. In most cases it’s just a matter of time before the same or a similar problem will happen again. Use the problem definition statement to demonstrate why solving it should remain a priority; and remind decision-makers that the sooner a team is formed to start the RCA investigation, the better the quality and quantity of evidence. Solid evidence contributes to a strong cause and effect chart, which in turn helps derive effective solutions.
“Management won’t support our recommendations”
Have you ever been discussing possible solutions to a problem, and someone says “management (or some other group) won’t let us do that”? They think they can speak on behalf of an individual or group not present at the meeting. To address this, speak with management directly. Explain the problem that needs to be addressed (the problem definition) and the recommended solution(s). Often, the person or group will support your solution(s) as long as certain conditions are met, such as going through the appropriate review and approval process.
“The person fixing the problem is the one at fault”
Occasionally, company culture creates a barrier. For example, in one company the objective of an RCA investigation was to find the (one and only) root cause and a solution to it. In reality there are always multiple causes and multiple effective solutions. At this company, there was an incorrect assumption that the person implementing the solution must have been the one who caused it. Therefore, their punishment was to implement a solution. As a result, each RCA investigation team member was trying to make sure they are not responsible for implementing the solution.
First off, this goes counter to the Apollo method, where the objective is to find effective solutions; root cause(s) are simply the causes where solutions are applied. Also, the Apollo approach focuses on why the problem occurred and not whom to blame. Therefore, applying the Apollo method within this organization will drive a cultural change to one of finding effective solutions, rather than blame. Not an easy task, but ARMS Reliability is positioned to help any organization that finds itself struggling with transforming its RCA culture.
“Find the root cause, find the person to blame”
A second example of how company culture creates a barrier can come up during RCA investigations. If the team stops work when they have found evidence of human error, then they are missing a great opportunity. Also, they are sending the message that people are the root of all problems. Yes, every problem will likely have causes that can be attributed to a person’s action or inaction. But you need to look beyond this to see why the person took the action they did. What were they experiencing (information overload, physical discomfort, insufficient time to make a decision, etc.)? What information did they have (or not have)?
The human factors behind problems are complex. Yet you should always challenge an RCA team that wants to stop at “human error” and ask why the person took the action. By doing so, you will uncover deeper, more systemic problems.
Breaking down the barriers
In most cases, getting the right problem definition and solution(s) in front of the right decision-makers will get you across the line.
Remember, persistence is worth the effort. If an event has caused a problem that warrants the instigation of the Apollo Root Cause Analysis methodology, then it’s clearly in your organization’s best interests to see the RCA process through to completion so you can prevent the problem from happening again.
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