How does “there’s an app for that” culture affect RCA?

Chris Eckert, President


Some very popular online discussions among quality and reliability professionals have caught my eye lately.  In a nut shell, many, especially engineers, are frustrated with the trending belief that software solves all ills – that it’s more powerful and effective than human knowledge, innovation and collaboration.  “Get the app” is now the answer for everything.  

Professionals who contributed to the discussion in a reliability group made valuable points, including:

  • “People expect the software to give all of the answers.”  
  • “…they fail to see (or don't want to) that the problem is in their business processes (or lack thereof) and not in the system.”  
  • “All of those "tweeks" [improvements] come from technicians, supervisors, shift engineers and senior engineers. The software simply captures what they do, and in the end provides them with the report of what was done….It does not "create" that history. We do.”

Many consider software vendors at least partially to blame, saying those vendors have convinced their client managers that all the organization needs is software.  The view is that vendors are putting software ahead of process and knowledge, and managers who don’t want to invest in training because the payback occurs too far down the road (or they will be down the road by then) are being lured in by the “new, shiny things.”

In contrast, sometimes we have managers in our RCA classes – we had one very recently – who are so pleased to hear our instructors remind their people that it is “process” -- not software -- that they are there to learn.  

From a personal perspective, above all, we want our clients to be successful.  Yes, we sell software, but we don’t believe successful problem solving is caused by software.  Software assures a more consistent application/approach, provides onboard quality control, and documents the work in a more expeditious manner. But it still relies on the wisdom, questioning and insights of the RCA team.   Sure, we cover how to use our Causelink™ software in our training classes, but that’s secondary to the hands-on, interactive exercises that require people to think and work together to arrive at the best solution.  

Software has come a long way—expert systems can be valuable for those new to a job where the organization doesn’t want to pay people to “relearn” the same lessons that countless predecessors have learned before, especially with the routine, repetitive problems. However, problems morph.  Very few problems, especially the significant ones, are the same. There is normally a unique combination of minute causes and omissions that join forces to cause the problem.  

Certainly Causelink software is a powerful tool that provides many benefits to the organization, especially in terms of efficiency.  However, the people using the software are only successful if they understand and effectively apply the RCA methodology…and that requires thought, creativity and collaboration.  

Because every organization, situation and problem is unique, our clients are most successful at truly solving and preventing problems when they view root cause analysis as a knowledge-based process, rather than a software- or template-based process. Further, valuable solutions come from people through their ideas and process knowledge, and through the new information uncovered by the questions that are generated and answered when creating the cause and effect chart. 


There is an app for that

Yes, you have touched on a serious problem that faces young managers.This is happening all over, not just in RCA.I have much problem with the "Continuous Improvement" phylosophy that has come from "Lean Six Sigma" and "DMAIC" topics.  This seems like some cancer that is spreading.I learned RCA in the Dean Gano line of thinking about 12 or 13 years ago.  This is very powerful.  But new managers have found something that looks more like "5 Why's" to me and refuse to accept that they cannot see things properly without examining the validation of statements according to evidence that get put into their spider-web-like mind map.  (They decided it was too expensive to continue to train people to think better.)I am glad that you keep this concept alive.Now I am exploring the statistics behind inference, and am disappointed by the packaging of apps for the "six sigma" crowd.At the end of my career I find I no longer have organizational power to change minds.

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