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Root cause analysis, the "Five Whys", and the photocopier question
"Root Cause Analysis" is complex, involved, and requires both tenacity and creativity. When there's a problem, often the cause isn't a simple, single thing, it's often a collection of things, and each of those might not be easily characterised. Even so, it's a crucial exercise in many technology based industries and activities. So in this post I want to talk about my most recent brush with the challenges of performing RCA, and even of getting other people to see that it's there to be done.
The start of this episode
Recently I was reminded of a question I was asked quite some time ago, and which I found intriguing:
Others will engage with something simply because it's an interesting question. They are driven by the curiosity that a question like this can provoke. I'll call these people type C for Curious.
Neither of these points of view are necessarily right or wrong, and indeed, each has merits and each has faults. More than that, no one is entirely P nor entirely C, everyone is a mixture of both. And even then, the balance can shift, sometimes from moment to moment, sometimes from hour to hour, and certainly from month to month or year to year.
But it's definitely worth remembering that they both exist.
So this question of photocopying a mirror would seem just to be an idle speculation, albeit one that can be resolved by getting a mirror and performing the experiment. So it's often dismissed by those of type P as a pointless philosophical question.
Going beyond the simple problem statement
But I don't think it is. I think it is a great example of so-called "Root Cause Analysis." I'm not really just asking "What happens when you Photocopy a Mirror?" The answer to that question is like a symptom. I'm really asking: Why?
But we continue:
But if you do the experiment not just on one copier from one manufacturer you find you get the same result from every copier from every manufacturer. There is something going on here - there is a root cause as to why this is the result.
There must be a reason why we get the same result, and that will most likely stem from the task a copier accomplishes.
And that's the real question here. It's not "How does a copier work?" It's "Why must a copier produce the result it does when copying a mirror?"
It's not the "what," it's the "why".
There have been some comments and replies sent to me which I'm in the process of working through. That feedback will appear here in due course.
You can read about the "Five Whys" with a simple internet search. There are many many writings on the subject, and it wouldn't really be helpful for me to select just the one. So here's a search for "Root Cause Analysis" to get you started:
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