Root Cause Analysis?

OUCH! – So read the cover of a BusinessWeek magazine whose cover story revealed a recent spate of product recalls at a $60 Billion company.  This Company is well known for their exemplary handling of tainted products in the 80’s but had 50-plus product recalls in a 15-month span in products ranging from antacids to hip replacements.  No doubt there are a lot of interrelated issues that resulted in Johnson & Johnson’s Quality Catastrophe”.

Based on our experience, somewhere in the midst of J&J’s issues is almost certainly a combination of inadequate root cause identification and deficient change implementation.  If you are experiencing service or product quality issues inside of your organization, consider implementing the following strategies:

  • Don’t patch your problems! This is the step you are implementing after the problem has occurred to keep the inferior product or service from impacting the customer.  Patches fail and lead to more problems.  Instead isolate the root cause and spend your energy fixing the cause.
  • Stop and think! When new problems emerge we usually engage in something Bob Schaffer calls “activity-centered fallacies” of collecting mounds of data, making adjustments and attending unnecessary or unfocused meetings to guess about the cause.  Take the time to work through what IS and IS NOT wrong and identifying changes that have occurred.
  • Don’t make changes! Okay, this is not realistic, practical or advisable for a company that wishes to improve.  However, your change implementation process is critical for avoiding new problems.  Before implementing any change, look for anything that could go wrong with the change and take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood that something will go wrong.
  • Develop more problem solvers! Consider who you expect to resolve issues in your organization and make sure that they are adequately trained with a common set of processes.  Armed with the right tools and a common language for resolving issues, your teams will be able to resolve issues more quickly and effectively than you thought possible.

Implement these strategies and you can avoid both the large and small issues that plague companies.  It takes time and a disciplined focus but the payoff is a smooth running operation with few unexpected problems and minimal fire-fighting.

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