As discussed, most experts agree that the first and most crucial step in problem-solving is defining the problem. Once you’ve done this, however, it may not be appropriate to move straight to the solution phase. Rather, it is often helpful to identify the cause(s) of the problem: This will better inform your solution planning and execution, and help ensure that you don’t fall victim to the same challenges in the future.
Below are some of the most common strategies for identifying the cause of a problem:
- Root Cause Analysis: This method helps identify the most critical cause of a problem. A factor is considered a root cause if removing it prevents the problem from recurring. Performing a root cause analysis is a 12 step process that includes: define the problem, gather data on the factors contributing to the problem, group the factors based on shared characteristics, and create a cause-and-effect timeline to determine the root cause. After that, you identify and evaluate corrective actions to eliminate the root cause.
- Fishbone Diagram: Also called an Ishikawa diagram or a Cause-and-Effect diagram, this is a visual tool to identify the cause(s) for a problem. This exercise is meant to generate multiple potential causes, and can be used in a brainstorming session.
- Interrelationship Diagram: This visual tool shows the relationship among different problems so you can identify common causes and see how certain problems impact others. More sophisticated interrelationship diagrams will also depict the strength of each problem. You can build an interrelationship diagram by writing down all competing issues, and drawing arrows between them to show the direction of influence each has on the others.
- 5 Whys: This is a simple process designed to encourage teams to dig deep into the causes of their problem. Start with your problem, and then ask, “Why?” Continue asking “Why?” five times (or more), until you uncover the true root cause of your current situation.
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