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Root Cause vs. Containment

A typical response to problem solving is to contain the issue and consider getting to the root cause.  From my experience, this is because people don’t know the difference between root cause and containment.

It can be easier to see in a tangible manufacturing environment.

Problem: A group of products have a broken screw that will cause the product to fail

Containment: Sort all product to find the ones with the broken screws and replace the screws.

Root Cause: Find why the screws were broken in the first place.  Were the screws torqued too much?  Weak screws?

Most people understand the difference when an example like the one above occurs.  But in a business environment, people seem to miss this difference.

Problem: The numbers on paper say the budget is $10 million, but the manager says the budget is $6 million.

Containment: Get an answer to which budget is correct.  $6 million or $10 million?

Root Cause: What caused there to be a discrepancy between the numbers on paper and what is being said?

I see a lot of answers around poor communication or people getting the containment answer and believing they got to the root cause.  We should be finding a root cause to why there was a discrepancy so there isn’t another one in the future that causes delay in the process.

Just because you are able to move the process forward, does not mean you got the root cause.  Take the time and find the root cause.  It may take more time now, but it will save a lot of time in the future.

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