Are you in it for the long run?

Two primary challenges of root cause analysis that come to mind are: (1) the time and effort required to do it right, and (2) knowing where to focus.

It is one thing to read a book about the journey someone else took to get to the root cause of an issue (as we did in class) but it is quite a different story to do this in practice.

In class we mapped out the issues Fabio Rosa faced, and the different levels of problems he found. It is easy to forget, however, that this journey took years – most of his adult life really. I think this is very common among social entrepreneurs. As was mentioned in class, they “apprentice with the problem”. Does this have to take a lifetime, probably not, although sometimes it may. I think that learning about root cause analysis and making it a deliberate process (rather than accidental as you go) can certainly cut lots of time, not to mention frustration, but the reality is that, if done correctly, I think that a root cause analysis simply takes a lot of time and effort. It involves talking to real people. Getting into real situations. Doing a lot of thinking and experimenting. And then doing it all over again.

Knowing where to focus
Another challenge with root cause analysis is being able to know where to stop. It seems like you could almost always find another level, and maybe even go in circles sometimes, but I really do think there is a sweet spot (or multiple sweet spots) in any “root cause analysis chain”. The trick is to understand the costs and benefits of addressing each issue along the chain, and then pulling the lever that you think will have the best shot at realistically addressing the problem.