Dean Gano’s emphasis on finding effective solutions to problems has directly challenged the commonly accepted notion that finding the “Root Cause” is the objective of any problem analysis. It is now appreciated that the identification of a root cause is a means to an end, rather than an end itself.  In fact, the “rootedness” of a cause is a function of an implementable solution being attached to it.

Another valuable characteristic of this method is its efficiency. Having facilitated a substantial number of problem analyses over the past three years, I am struck by the ease with which a team can be made to focus on a problem and avoid unnecessary and wasteful commentary or “stories” as Gano describes them.

The essential problem data, and impacts or consequences, are all acknowledged and documented as a first step in the process. The team members, being the stakeholders or their representatives, agree on the basic premise – the raison d’être –  for the team’s composition and existence is to prevent recurrence of the problem. This process rarely takes more than 30 minutes.

To initiate step two, identifying the causes and the relationships between them, the facilitator may lead a “brainstorming” process allowing team members to unburden themselves of suspicions, hunches and preconceptions. A number of responses in this process are broad categories and generalisations which are best rinsed out of the problem context, yet posted conspicuously in full view of the panel. The opportunity to propose possibilities and probabilities is in stark contrast to the intended aim of establishing certainty in the analysis to follow. In terms of creating a cooperative mood it certainly adds value.

If the facilitator limits the questioning to some key interrogatives such as “why?” and “caused by?” the responses can be kept brief and to the point. Typically, when one participant is responding directly to such a question, the balance of the team is attentive and stimulated by the suggestion – either to confirm or question. The facilitator documents the responses, adding causes to a chart which provides a graphical display of all causes and their relationships in various cause paths.

My facilitation experience for problems in the mining, oil and gas, transport and manufacturing industries – whether safety incidents, environmental issues or technical and mechanical failures with values between several hundreds of thousands of dollars and $15.5M – has lead me to conclude that on the first day 80% of the problem can be  reasonably well-defined and documented. Refinement of the causal relationships and the verification of the existence of proposed causes by the application of evidence may require further reflection and adjustment of the chart.

More importantly, participants usually become aware of cause paths which were not previously apparent. This is the exacting process of discovery which typifies the Gano method. I am reminded of the ridicule which was heaped on Donald Rumsfeld, former US Foreign Secretary, for his reference to the “unknown unknowns” (the final element in the series “known knowns”, “known unknowns” ….) and recommend that we follow Gano’s advice about “embracing our ignorance”.

We need a system which efficiently reveals the dimensions of the problems we do not yet understand, because we have not recognised them yet. I was once surprised to be advised after only five hours analysis on a mechanical failure in underground mining equipment, that a meeting would need to adjourn while a number of participants went to conduct further investigations and measurements related to a cause path which had not previously been identified. The meeting and the mapping of the problem never resumed because the missing causes were found in this path and effective solutions quickly implemented.

The analysis was undoubtedly efficient. The identified solutions were effective because they challenged previously unidentified causes and were implemented in a timely manner so as to prevent recurrence of the problem.  

About ncallahan

Ned Callahan is an experienced Apollo Root Cause Analysis Instructor and facilitator with 15 years' management experience and over 15 years' experience in education in two stints. In his 3 years at ARMS, he has helped people from over 300 companies become better problem solvers.

4 Thoughts on “Fast, Efficient and Effective – The Apollo Root Cause Analysis Method

  1. I find the Apollo Root Cause Analysis method as decribed by Dean Gano to be very effective in getting a shared understanding of the causes, and agreeing upon actions to prevent similar problems in the future. Thanks for highlighting this book!

    • Pleased to hear the Apollo method has made such a big impression, Ben. I have recently been reminded by students in my classes of two causes of the supposed “efficiency” : they have stated in various ways that it is (by definition, I suppose) “methodical” and “thorough”. Exploring the former, words like “simple”, “rational”, “logical” were commonly used. The thoroughness of an analysis is however dependent on multiple factors, not the least of which is the determination of the “owner/s” to reveal the causes which have not been identified. Dean Gano’s call to all you analysts to “embrace your ignorance” is very well directed.
      Do you recall Donald Rumsfeld’s comments about the “unknown unknowns”? He was pilloried by the press commentators but he was right. You don’t know what you don’t know and the hidden or unrecognised causes will only be exposed if you keep asking “why?” and “caused by?”. If you knew all the causes, you would have already implemented solutions and there would be no recurrent problem. QED?

  2. Meghan on August 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm said:

    great post highlighting the method, steps and the examples of solutions that find considerable $$$ savings

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