Finding problems is difficult


Look around and you’ll find problems everywhere!

Well – no. What you experience are often symptoms originating from some underlying problem. In our high-paced society, we’re constantly tempted to do something fast on the symptom, just to realize the symptom to reemerge. We did not have the stamina to understand and act upon the problem, causing the symptom.

Swigert: Okay, Houston. I believe we’ve had a problem here

Lovell repeated: We’ve had a problem here. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt

Apollo 13 mission

Yes – the Apollo 13 mission control was definitely under time pressure, but they knew that they needed to understand the underlying problem to an extend enabling them to craft a solution, saving the Apollo 13 crew.

The causality chain

You’ll find a variety of strategies, techniques and tools aiming at understanding the causality chain.

An example is the 5 WHYs technique having its origin from Sakichi Toyoda in the Toyota Motor Corporation. As the name indicates, the technique is very simple: continue asking WHY? five times, and you’ll have identified the underlying problem – the root cause.

This is an example:

Symptom: The vehicle will not start.

Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)

Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)

Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)

Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)

Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

Can you continue beyond the five WHYs? Of course you can.

Are you guaranteed to identify the  problem / root-cause after five WHYs? Definitely not.

Let’s continue the example above.

Why (was the vehicle not maintained according to the recommended service schedule)? – The owner did not have the money for the service.

Why (did he not have the money)? – he has lost his job

Why (did he loose his job)? – he could not cope with the stress

… and we could continue. 

When to stop?

CausalityYou’ll always be able to ask an additional “WHY?”, but the trick is knowing when to stop. 

In the example above, the root-cause could be that the car-owner has gotten a decease making him extra sensible to stress. Even though this is the deeply founded root cause, it is far beyond the sphere of influence for the car repair shop.

Realistically the problem (though strictly speaking a symptom) is the lack of service, and the solution is to recommend keeping the service schedule.

One important indicator on when to stop, is thus knowing your sphere of influence. Yes – you’ll still be finding solutions to a symptom, but that is all you can do.

Projekt.DK's approach to problems

We take great pride in understanding the problem (actually the symptoms at the realistic level of influence) before suggesting specific solutions. This process can, and often will bring new insights, because we and our customer are forced to think to the limit and out of the box.

NB – and no, we do not call problems “a challenge”. We call it what it is – a problem.

Get in contact to learn more.