I interviewed Leona Charles who discussed Root Cause and How You Can Use It to Lift Your Organization to a Whole New Level.




Hi, Dustin, this is Leona Charles from SPC Business Consulting. Thank you for having me.


A little bit about me... I've been doing program management and compliance for about 15 years. I started in the UK in England, and I am now in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Again, thank you for having me.


Our topic is root cause. The first thing to understand root cause is that it is the reason why a challenge or situation is occurring. It's not blame. It's not identifying personal causation. What it is, is identifying process or organizational causation. What I mean by causation is identifying what part of your process is breaking down, in essence, that it's hindering a desired outcome by your organization.


So, root cause is essentially the why behind whatever is happening. If an organization has a vendor delivery problem or a procurement problem, root cause is the why that situation exists. It's not finger pointing. It's not blaming. It's just defining specifically and measurably why the circumstance is occurring.


Root cause is important because you can't improve you don't know what's going on. You have to know what you don't know. Generally, root cause comes to the forefront when there's a pain point in an organization or there's a pain point in a project. These pain points are important because they call attention to things that could be going a lot more efficiently, could be running smoother, could be running at less expense. And generally you don't know these items are occurring until there's a hiccough.


So, root cause helps you identify errors that are not anomalies and not one-offs. Root cause helps you identify prolonged or long-term challenges and long-term pain points. And this is something that organizations have to understand, that root cause is not something that you're going to say, "This is what's going on," and never have the problem again. Root cause helps you identify processes that your organization is using long term that are creating eithersort-term or long-term outcomes.


So, how is it used?


Well, it's used in a variety of ways. But the most common way root cause is utilized is when a business... Let's a say a project-based business is running behind. Either they're over budget, they're over scheduled, their resources allocation is out of sync, and there's a mass panic or a [inaudible 00:03:17] going on. This is where root cause kind of shines. This is where it becomes one of the best tools in your project management or organizational management toolbox.


What happens is you simple sit down and simply ask why. Don't ask who. Don't ask how much. Don't ask what department is to blame for this. Just simply ask why. "Why is this happening?"


Say you have a driver who is consistently 10 minutes late. Ask, "Why is this driver 10 minutes late?" Then the answer is maybe it's the route. Maybe he's unfamiliar with the customer. Maybe he's unfamiliar with the sign-in regulations that's causing him to be tardy. Maybe he is unfamiliar with the parcel he's delivering, and he's unprepared.


So, you get your first set of "Why." Then, say we've established he doesn't know that route. Well, why doesn't he know the route? Well, there could be a variety of reasons. It could be the trainer never told him. It could be his direct supervisor didn't direct him to the most desirable route. It could be traffic. It could be he got caught behind a school bus. It could be delayed because he needed fuel.


So, then the next step is to identify which one of those is actually occurring. Then you say why again. Why? Why didn't he have time to get fuel? Maybe the schedule is just cut too close. So, you need to go back to his direct supervisor and address the issue of scheduling. How are you scheduling the drivers? Where are they scheduled to get fuel? Who does the fuel? How long does it take to get the fuel? Is that taken into consideration when the schedule was made?


So, root to circle back. All root cause does is cause you to utilize critical thinking within your organization. And it forces the first line supervisors all and way up to the C-suite to understand why something is occurring, how often it is occurring, and where that pain point can be eased. Once you do that, you're fully engaged in root cause. You're fully engaged in not blaming. You're fully engaged in not making knee-jerk reactions or emotional responses to being over deadline, over budget. You're fully engaged in using information and metrics to understand why a situation is occurring, to understand what the best solution is for that situation, and to understand in very factual, guided method, how to create a solution that's going to work for your organization.


Once that's done, then root cause really shines. It completely changes the way organizations think. It completely changes the way problems are solved. And at the end of the day, that's all it is. It's a problem-solving tool. When you're a manager, when you're an executive, you're always putting out fires. Root cause is one of these tools that allows you to permanently put out the fire — not just put a Band-Aid on it, but to permanently put it out. And to permanently empower your employees or your first-level staff, your first-level supervisor to create a solution that has a realistic application to whatever department they're working in. And that is the beauty of root cause.


It's a wonderful tool. It's something that, once you learn, you will use forever. And the best thing about it is it's constantly evolving. So, as your business grows, as your organization matures, your root cause will mature organically because you'll start asking questions that are more specific to situations. And you'll start taking those solutions and applying them to your whole strategy, your whole growth strategy. And that synchronization between first line and the C-suite's strategic plans are what make root cause the strongest tool in your management toolbox.


Dustin, thank you very, very much for having me explain root cause. It's something that I'm very, very passionate about. But it's also something that particular small businesses should get a handle on and use because it saves you time, money, and effort, which is something that's always in short demand where businesses are concerned, particular small businesses.


So, if there are any questions about root cause, I'm always available. You can see me at SPCBusinessConsulting.com. Or if you have any questions, you can shoot me an email at info@SPCConsulting.org, and I will answer them as well.


Thanks a lot.




About Leona Charles



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Leona Charles

Owner, SPC Business Consulting LLC.

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