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Identify root cause out of your control?

Posted by kyle toppazzini on Thu, Jun 28, 2012

5 why analysis, lean six sigma, sigma, leanHave you ever conducted a workshop, when the 5-Why framework (a Lean 6 Sigma technique) was used and, by the 5th Why, participants come up with a root cause that employees had no control over? Now what to do?

This blog explains the method I use to ensure the root cause is actionable.


Step 1 - Construct the Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram (i.e. Ishikawa diagram) is an effective facilitation technique to identify the cause and effect relationship between a problem or result (usually negative) and a cause at the high level.  During a facilitated working session, the participants should be asked to identify reasons for a specific problem (or result), e.g. missing documents or increased in defects. These problems/results should be predetermined through some data collection and analysis activity conducted prior to the working session.

Once the participants brainstormed some of the causes for the problem, causes that are similar should be grouped together and one heading should be created for each of the grouping.  Finally, we create the fishbone diagram with the high level causes as shown in the green boxes in the diagram and the result labelled on the head of the fishbone diagram. 


Step 2 - Use the 5-Why Technique

The 5-Why technique is used to breakdown each of the high level causes (identified in Step 1) to a point where the root cause can be determined.  The 5-Why framework postulates that if you ask Why five times successively, you should be able to get to the root of the problem by the 5th Why. 

After walking participants through this technique by using a couple of problems, I often ask participants in what way they will be able to eliminate or reduce the impact from that root cause.  By facilitating the workshop like this, it is more likely to assist the group coming up with a root cause that employees have control over.


Step 3 - Identify Countermeasures

Finally, I ask the group to identify a list of countermeasures or actions they can take to eliminate the root cause.  If the group failed to identify a root cause that is within their control (in Step 2), then I would ask what countermeasure or action should be used to eliminate that root cause. By asking this question, they should quickly realize that there is an alternate root cause that is within their control, and the previously identified root cause should be changed to reflect one they can control.

Once the group has identified the counter measures for each root cause, it should be time for them to rank the countermeasures based on three criteria:

  1. Feasibility: How feasible is it for the countermeasure to be implemented, given the existing resources (i.e. people and budget), other priorities, and workload? (1= lowest, 3= highest)
  2. Cost: How expensive it is likely to be for the countermeasure to be implemented?  (1= highest, 3 = lowest)
  3. Impact: How many other root causes (that were identified) will be impacted by the countermeasure? (1=Impact one root cause, 3=Impact more than two root causes)

The countermeasure with the highest score for each root cause will be selected.  If there is a tie, then add in a forth criteria, i.e. strategic relevance, which is related to how important the countermeasure will be to the organizational strategy.


Concluding thoughts

This style of facilitation enables the participants to identify root causes and potential solutions that they have control over.  By doing so, they can implement a Lean 6 Sigma solution and measure the impact that the solution has on their goal, which is to reduce or eliminate the problem.

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Valuable Resources

The following URLs provide great additional information on Lean 6 Sigma

Toppazzini and Lee Consulting Lean 6 Sigma Consulting  at -Lean Six Sigma Consulting

Linkedin Six Sigma Group at

ISixSigma web site at

ASQ web site at



Topics: sigma, lean, Lean Six Sigma, 5 Why Analysis, Lean 6 Sigma