Little girl doing science experiment

How the Scientific Method is Connected to Root Cause Analysis

Mark Galley
Science Solves Problems

As far as problem solving goes, science has a pretty solid track record. It’s provided humanity with innumerable benefits in agriculture, medicine, transportation and more. But science isn’t just for scientists. Yes, science delves into subjects like physics and chemistry, but it also explains what happens on a farm, in a mechanic’s garage and within a weight loss program. If you want a complete understanding of how and why things happen, take a scientific approach.

Science is the study of the way things are. For centuries people knew when the tides shifted along the coastline, but they didn’t know why. In 1687, Isaac Newton explained the cause-and-effect relationships of high and low tides. Newton’s explanation was objective, accurate and complete. And it’s still the same explanation today.

Cause-and-Effect Analysis

Science explains how phenomena like the tides, as well as every incident within your company, occur. Cause-and-effect is the structure that explains how and why things happen. It’s the backbone of a scientific approach.

Yet, problem solving in many organizations has become disconnected from the basics. Some companies focus more on technique than principle. Employees are trained on a variety of different tools: Fishbone, 5-Whys, 6-sigma, 7-steps or 8-D. Each has its own terminology, acronyms and rules. Many people mistakenly believe the structure for a problem is provided by the selected methodology, but a scientific approach simply reveals the structure that’s already contained within the issue. Newton didn’t create his explanation of the tides, he just revealed what was actually happening. No magic.

Cause-and-effect thinking is the basis of troubleshooting, critical thinking and root cause analysis. It applies consistently to all incidents: safety, production, equipment and human performance. Cause-and-effect logic is the same for the frontline as it is for the engineers. There is no secret sauce to problem solving. The daily operations within every hospital, refinery and airline are possible because of science.

“Scientific Method”

Some people have an issue with the term scientific method – usually it’s scientists. The "science" part is fine. What they don’t like is any reference to science as a step-by-step "method" to arrive at the right answer. The 7-step flowchart in science classrooms is accurate, but not complete. Science is iterative. It may even appear messy at times, but there is a structure to how things happen.

Some believe cause-and-effect is too simple for complex problems, but cause-and-effect only seems simple because it’s fundamental. A cause-and-effect analysis works for small day-to-day issues as well as catastrophic events. A scientific approach can zoom in and out to different levels of detail as needed.

Keep it Simple

A scientific approach is a stable reference point for organizations to conduct root cause analysis. And fortunately, the scientific method isn’t proprietary. There’s no licensing fee or special software needed to thoroughly dissect your problem. You can use pencil and paper, a dry-erase board or whichever drawing software you choose. What the analysis does require is some cause-and-effect thinking about your operations.

Experiment with a Problem

Don’t take my word for it; test this yourself. Take a scientific approach with one of your problems and compare this method to what your company does now. Do your frontline people, technical leads and management communicate detail effectively? We want to know what you find - leave us a comment below.

The number one thing we can do is be a problem-solving resource for your organization. Every day we focus on analyzing and preventing problems. Let us know what would help you.

Facilitate Better Investigations | Attend a Webinar

Share This Post With A Friend


Similar Posts

Facilitate Better Investigations | Attend a Webinar