Root Cause Analysis…on a Toilet?

Some time ago, my wife and I had a debate. 

A debate about a toilet.

You see, nearly every time she used the guest bathroom, the darn toilet wouldn’t stop running, yet it seemed to work fine when I used it.   The problem was easily remedied by jiggling the handle but, as a recovering CPA, my mind couldn’t help but think about how much water was lost until someone walked by.  

One day I made the mistake of thinking out loud while standing near her and making eye contact.

“You know, the problem rarely happens when I use the guest bath.  I think it must be the way I flush.”

Blank stare.

“I think you need to flush harder,” I suggested.  “You know.  So I don’t always have to jiggle the handle to stop the water flow.  You must flush too… gingerly.”

“Gingerly?” she asked.  Her face was as receptive as you might imagine.  To make a point she walked silently toward the bathroom and yanked on the handle like a desperate gambler pulling on a slot machine after depositing her last dollar.

The toilet ran on and on while she stared at me with a knowing smile.

My wife has a way with words.

That’s when I remembered a fundamental critical thinking approach I had forgotten.  It’s called Distinction Analysis, and it is used to identify the root cause of problems when performance has never met the desired or expected results – and the steps are easy:

  1. Step 1:  Validate The Expected Level of Performance:  Is there something similar that is performing at the level you would like?  Like another toilet?  My mistake was I assumed the performance I was measuring was that of the flusher, and not of the item being flushed.  The toilet was the problem.  Not my wife.  She gingerly flushes every toilet in or house, yet the guest bath was the only problem.
  2. Step 2:  Draw Distinctions:  I spent some time surveying the toilet in our master bath, which is as consistent as a German train schedule.  When comparing that toilet to the one in the guest bath, I noticed one key distinction.  The master bath toilet had a little float attached to the flapper chain to straighten it out, whereas the guest bath did not.  And this was the only noticeable distinction.
  3. Step 3:  Test Solutions:  Looking for something I could validate quickly, I went to the garage and found an old fishing bobber.  I attached it to the flapper chain in the guest bath, and then gingerly flushed.   The toilet stopped running on cue. 

To this day, it still looks like the Tidy Bowl Man is on an angling adventure in my toilet tank.  But marital harmony was restored.   I know it’s a silly case, but similar examples exist all over our organizations.  That inventory system that works well in every region but the South; the IT implementation that installed flawlessly in five locations, then failed in the sixth; that one employee on the team who always seems to fall short of the goal.

We have been teaching critical thinking processes like this for the past 35 years, and helping our clients solve million-dollar problems in the process.  If you want to learn some tools to help flush your problems down the drain, give us a call at (800) 386-5611. I’d love to help!










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