Root cause analysis or RCA is what we call a ‘quality tool’ in the work that I do (and what I teach our Quality students). It’s the stupidest thing in the world – well not really. It’s ingenious, but it is so simple that it’s stupid. It lives at the intersection of project management and risk management (and therefore quality management). Basically, as the name suggests, it looks for the root causes of problems. Sometimes, most times we intuitively know the root causes of an issue. But the thing is ….in business if you actually allow yourself and your team to go through the steps of RCA you might be pleasantly surprised (as I many times was) to discover that there is actually something there, that you and other people in your organisation really just had not considered before. So, it really just is a simple systematic and amazing tool that helps you to continuously improve.
Other important thing about RCA is that you only gonna do it after there is a problem. Why would anyone do it before they have something to fix? (… that’s a trick question by the way, I know the risk management guys are screaming at me now :)) Yeah ok. Let’s move on.
So kids are, in my opinion, the experts of RCA. And since we all were kids once….except Shaun – he was always grown up (rolling my eyes), we all can be great at RCA. So the final step of RCA is asking “Why?”, more specifically 5 Whys. If you have a kid, you’ll know they’re flipping relentless…”Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?” and “Why?” – no matter what your answer is. I reckon we should all aspire to be like that again. And following these steps, if you take appropriate action and respond to the root cause, your negative issue should never recur.
So here’s what I’m actually blogging about, in our personal lives we stop too soon. Ok maybe it’s just me. Or maybe we not ready to know something until we are. Be that as it may, I’ve been reading a book called “The subtle art of not giving a fuck” and I’ve really been enjoying it. Most of what the author says is not anything I didn’t know. It was very cool though because he basically just ordered my thoughts. And the main point that he emphasizes (and something I hadn’t thought of before) is the underlying cause of any unhappiness is a skewed (or outright wrong) value in our lives. Huh….Like what’s a value?
And so I was thinking about myself and the times I’ve been unhappy. Time to time I get unhappy about tons of different stuff, but the most common recurring unhappiness is in the past two years is I’ve had rotten relationship luck. I can say (and pretend.. like I do) it doesn’t matter… but you know what, it does. To me it does. That’s an area which the author of the book would say “I give a fuck about”. Yet I know beyond any shadow or reason of a doubt that there is so much more happening in my life. Amazing stuff. Besides the PhD (my Beautiful Nightmare), watching my students grow, the fascinating research I’m doing on Open Education, my beautiful children and amazing family and I have the absolutely coolest friends in the world. And so armed with my newfound insight (aka the value stuff), I actually did a RCA.
And yes the author was right…. at the end of my “Whys?”, I realise there is a “value” in my life that is indeed misaligned. It’s a core value – one that I’ve believed my whole entire life. It is that being in a “traditional family unit” is the basis or a principle on which one builds happiness. Not only was I brought up believing that, in my life I am surrounded by ‘that’. My parents, my brothers who are both married, many people who are important in my life – an endless list. I forced myself to admit, I’ve been using that as a benchmark and blatantly disregarding the other benchmarks in my life, which believe it or not are actually are there.
Take that idea of “family unit” being the ideal away from me and you’ll flip my world upside down. But that exactly was the precise cause of my unhappiness! True story. So you know what I did… I took that value away from me. After doing my Whys? and spotting it, and then I realised I had to ask “Now what?” And guess what, …there is a what. The armegeddon that I was expecting didn’t happen.
So I’m changing my benchmark for happiness. It does not mean that finding a partner is not important to me. It’s just not so important anymore. I want to be happy more (consistently) often than what I currently am. And if I start using the other metrics I’ve identified (and now acknowledge) as true metrics of happiness (in my life that is), then my endeavour is not impossible. It’ll take time to break an old habit but it’s more than doable, because not only am I good at things associated to my new value, I enjoy striving (and thriving) toward them. I honestly think that following this process will add value in every area in our lives, not just at work.
So the bottom line is I have discovered a new final step to RCA. It doesn’t end with 5 Whys?… It ends with “Now what?”. And then do whatever it is darn it. I might just write an academic paper on this. The next time I present a lecture to students on RCA that is exactly what I’ll be telling them. Analysis without the necessary follow-up action is meaningless. Gosh I simply love my job. Quality rocks!!!!!!
Disclaimer: RCA starts with Ishikawa analysis and then 5 Whys (and my new step the “Now what”), – it’s not just the 5 Whys #JustSaying