The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems


            People ask me WHY I wrote THE ROOT CAUSE: Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems ( So, let me tell you.

            Who can relate to having an epiphany, when scattered pieces of a puzzle came together, only to reveal a clear and coherent picture? That experience occurred to me when studying Information Analysis with Cap Gemini, many moons ago.

            The first step in the course was Problem Analysis, starting with the definition of a problem. No, not the dictionary one of “a source of difficulty“, or “a question raised for consideration or solution”. No, it was much more to the point and above all practical.

            A problem is a condition which is unintended and unwanted.
This condition is identified as a problem if:

  • the problem concerns an ACTIVITY, and . . .
  • its EXECUTION (efficiency) or OUTCOME (effectiveness) in their current state deviates from the NORM, and . . .
  • that norm is accepted by the person responsible for performing this activity (the problem owner), or is mandated unequivocally by management.

            In short, a problem is a discrepancy between the CURRENT state of a business system and its DESIRED state. Hence, a problem is an EFFECT, not its root CAUSE! Getting to know the root cause(s) requires one to conduct a process called DIAGNOSING. This requires you KNOW what the current state is and what the desired state is. If you don’t know one or the other, let alone neither, then . . . . what IS your problem anyway ???

            However, the current dominant practice of “problem solving” hardly ever starts with diagnosing any root cause(s). Consequently, nobody really asks about the current state of the business system, whereas the desired state remains murky at best. The most frequently stated norm—or stated purpose of the business—is “making money”.

            Therefore, any proposed solution that “promises” to increase efficiency, cut cost, or raise bottom-line results is acceptable. Nobody seems to worry whether that investment in time, money or resources actually addresses any root cause(s); i.e. prevent root causes from persisting or lingering within the system for the foreseeable future, or just recur time and again when least expected and at the most inconvenient time.

            Another inadvertent consequence of this unfortunate approach to problem solving is that efficiency measures erode operational effectiveness. That is bad for business because buyers/users are directly affected by your effectiveness problems, whereas they are unlikely to give your efficiency problems a second thought.

            Back in the 1970’s, a conglomerate of bicycle shop owners ran an ad on Dutch television with the caption “Buy from the man who can also repair.” I admit, it sounds much better in Dutch “Koop bij de man die ook repareren kan.” You’ll get the drift, you’ll be much better served and advised by those who UNDERSTAND the intricacies of a system.

            And so, I wrote a book about my experiences, and McGraw Hill published it.
Take a peek inside THE ROOT CAUSE

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