Why are four-year-olds the masters of root cause analysis?
At around the age of four, not long after we start rattling off simple sentences, our minds are sponges – absorbing as much information as possible. We innately start asking questions about the world that surrounds us, trying to establish the reasons it is the way it is. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
This can be somewhat annoying if you are on the receiving end of a barrage of Whys (particularly multiple barrages – as every parent would understand), however without knowing it, the four-year-old has become the master of root cause analysis and is capturing as much information as possible about the world around them and the real reason it is as it is. When they hear a “Just Because!” they know they have found the true root cause.
Then, at some stage, we lose this skill. We forget how to actually dig deeper, and we settle for a quick, obvious answer without pushing past the initial superficial justification to get to the real root cause.
So, let’s throw our minds back to the four-year-old root cause analysis technique of the Five Whys. This method doesn’t actually mandate asking why five times, it is just a guide – the point is you keep asking why until you can’t answer the question anymore – when you reach your “Just Because” moment. It may take three Whys or it could take ten Whys. The underlying principle is that you rarely find the root cause by asking Why once.
Another technique (and my preferred method) is to use the 6Ms or supercharged version – the 8Ms.
What are the 8Ms for Root Cause Analysis?
The 8Ms are categories that you can use to try and identify the root cause/s of a problem. Note that the 8Ms actually allow us to identify multiple root causes, which will often be the case, for a situation will most likely have a number of contributing root cause factors.
The 8Ms are:
- Man – what is the human influence on the problem?
- Machine – what is the machinery/equipment influence on the problem?
- Material – have the materials contributed to the problem?
- Measurement – has the measuring equipment contributed to the problem?
- Method – has the process or sequence of operations contributed to the problem?
- Mother Nature – weather, operating environment, temperature, humidity etc. Has one of these factors affected the problem?
- Money – has a lack of money (or too much money!) contributed to the situation? What about market conditions or revenue?
- Management – has the situation been influenced by management style/toxic workplace cultures, etc
For those that have worked with 6Ms before, you will note that normally only the first 6Ms are used. I highly recommend you include Money and Management as they are important categories that should be addressed. The last two Ms definitely provide some interesting insights into funding allocations/resourcing, management style, and workplace culture.
How do you use the 8Ms in Root Cause Analysis?
You could use the 8Ms on an Ishikawa Diagram/Fishbone Diagram if you have the time, inclination and find value in this approach/format. Each of the 8Ms could be listed on 8 of the bones and then you can drill down, possibly utilising the 5 Whys in conjunction to drill down to the true root cause.
I have provided a customised 8M5Y Root Cause Analysis Worksheet / Root Cause Analysis Template for free download HERE (A4 version) or HERE (A3 version). The worksheet has been designed as a combination of 8M and also 5Y on a one-page layout to allow users to easily flesh out the factors/root causes associated with each of the categories, and from there establish a Corrective Action Plan to deal with the situation and ensure the problem does not occur again.
How to use the 8M5Y Root Cause Analysis Worksheet
This is how to use the 8M5Y Root Cause Worksheet:
- Clearly define the problem statement / situation / incident in the centre box.
- Identify the contributing factors from each of the 8M categories. Leave blank if not applicable.
- Draw a line to link each of the identified Ms to a 5Y cloud.
- Utilise the 5 why framework to drill down and identify the root cause for each of the contributing M factors.
- Establish a corrective action plan to address each of the root causes identified.
There are other root cause analysis tools that can be used however I find this to be the most effective. Hopefully, you can incorporate it into your ISO Management System to drive continual improvement and achieve real benefit by identifying the true root cause of problems and taking comprehensive and effective action to address the root causes of a problem and ensure recurrences are prevented.
Note: Feel free to use and reproduce this worksheet providing you include an acknowledgment to Scott Bishop as the author thank you.
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