7 steps to FINDING ROOT CAUSES to your business problems: How-To run a Root Cause workshop

7 steps to FINDING ROOT CAUSES to your business problems:

How-To run a Root Cause workshop


If your business isn’t running efficiently, you’ll see some tell-tale signs: Long customer queues, long hold times, high amounts of human errors, slow turnaround times when dealing with clients or suppliers. Perhaps there’s high attrition and low staff morale.


Why a root cause workshop?

The underlying cause of these issues can be difficult to spot and may require some investigative work and a root cause workshop if the best approach. Many new Automation teams unaware of lean thinking (and lean automation) may go out and fix the problem that they see in front of them, however by uncovering and then solving the root cause may “kill multiple birds with one stone”, as root causes typically result in an array of issues. Lean Intelligent Automation, using lean thinking techniques to get the most out of automation technologies.


Here are seven steps your team can use to air out team issues, get full participation in workshops and uncover key root causes to the major blockers and hurdles impacting their team.



Before we start, a central tool to use in your Root Cause Workshops is the fishbone diagram. This has six areas for your attendees to focus on when thinking about what may be causing these headaches.  

Most root causes typically exist upstream from where the issues are being experienced. It’s also interesting to understand what happens as a result of the target team experiencing these blockers. Perhaps this issue is causing the target team to generate a lot more work, which is putting immense pressure on teams down the chain.


Invite the right people

For this to work well, it’s vital that you’ve inviting the right people to that workshop from your target team (where the pain is being experienced) as well as representatives from the teams who are upstream from the target team (who feed them information), and downstream (those who receive information once your target team has completed whatever they do). It would be better to postpone your workshop, than to just invite people just because they were available.


Have the information available

Another thing to do before the workshop is to ensure that the attendees have done their research on the problems being discussed, so that they bring keep information like KPIs and other metrics to the meeting. You don’t want people to say “oh I’ll get back to you on that” or “we don’t have that information right now” as this will defeat the purpose of the workshop.


Senior backing

Finally, for a successful workshop you should have senior person or decision-maker in the room, or at least has clearly supported the workshop. This will minimise the amount of last minute dropouts and emails five minutes before the meeting asking to reschedule or postpone.



Step 1: Set up your Fishbone diagram

Get your fishbone diagram set up on a whiteboard so that when people walk in (physically or virtually, they have some to prepare their thoughts.

Explain the rules of the workshop, these steps and explain the 6 areas. This visual aid helps attendees focus their ideas and have something to put their ideas on. You can use a physical whiteboard or there are lots of different virtual whiteboards you can use like Miro or Mural. Great for remote working.



Step 2: Discuss problems (using the 6 areas)


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With your attendees warmed up and understanding the six different areas (measurements, materials, methods, mother nature, manpower and machines), use silent post-its to walk through each area, getting attendees to add their ideas of problems and pains for each.

Silent post-its is more comfortable as ideas can be added to the board without fear of being shot down. This also allows you to get FULL participation, calling out anyone who hasn’t put their ideas down for each of the 6 areas.

Only after the board has post-its from everyone you can start to discuss the ideas and start tease out more pains and problems around those six areas.


Step 3: Group problems into themes (and determine what’s in/out of scope)

Moving away from the Fishbone diagram now, as you discuss the problems on the board you may find that you can group them together into about three to five different themes. Hopefully there should be similarities between the different problems so that you can discuss details of the key themes that encapsulate all these post-its. Perhaps a lot of problems stem from a new upgrade to a third party system, or the webchat that customers always use incorrectly, or a new website that keeps breaking down.

Once you’ve collected them into themes you want to which are in and out of scope of your Automation team’s remit. Perhaps the issues with the third party’s system is something that is out of your hands, to handle potentially it’s one of the pain themes are to do with it equipment being upgraded or partners or suppliers maybe some for the teams that deal with partnerships and suppliers to handle


Step 4: Add information, metrics, and KPIs

Getting information, KPIs and other metrics around these pain points helps you to determine whether these problems are significant, or if they feel worse than they really are. Perhaps the finance system is cumbersome and preparing spreadsheets takes almost an hour to do, but it’s only used once every 3 months.

Whether its the percentage of human error, number of monthly customer complaints or trending rate of losing clients, understanding the situation with numbers (or knowing who or where to get them) will help you know where is best to focus to have the greatest impact.


Step 5: Highlight Blockers

With a clear view on what the key issues are, you want to get some understanding on potential blockers and restrictions that could stop you from making improvements. This could be a legal or cultural restrictions which could stop or hinder you.

Understand how they tried to solve this before and why it failed the last time.


Step 6: Prioritise problems/themes

With a short list of themed problems, minimal blockers and metrics which evidence that these are big worthwhile problems, these are potentially very go automation projects for your team to look at.

Work with the business team(s) to prioritize which problems are most business critical, and when solved would make the biggest improvement to corporate objectives. There must be logical rationale behind their prioritizations aside from the perceived pain it causes. A new automation team may stop here and start designing solutions for these problems, but we want to go one step further so that we can solve the root cause.


Step 7: 5-Whys

As the name suggestions, the 5-Whys method is where you ask the team about the problem five why’s in order to peal back the layers of the problem. This lean thinking technique asks the cause of a problem, then asks the cause of that cause and so on. This can lead to you to uncover a simpler issue when you finally get down to the root cause.

As a real life example the problem was that the team needed to manually copy data from one system to the next. This was creating a lot of work, putting immense pressure on the team. Furthermore, the work load was forecast to increase next year.  

1WHY: Why do you need to copy data from one system to the next?

Because the two systems don’t sync properly

2WHY: why is that?

Because the two systems data hardly ever matches

3WHY: okay so why is that?

Because the customer data in system A is hardly ever accurate

4WHY: okay and why is that?

Because the data from the outdoor workmen are not entering the customer details correctly

5WHY: (to the workmen representatives) okay and why are workmen not entering details correctly?

In this scenario the outdoor workers had their handheld devices while on the road, and they had to enter the customers details sometimes at night, in the rain and using their finger to enter details manually. All too frequently this causes them to key in customer details accurately.


By stopping at the problem, an automation team would be tempted to automate the alignment of data between system A and system B. But by identifying the root cause your team could provide a far simpler, such as providing the outdoor workman with touchscreen pens for the handheld device and dropdown menus to accurately select the correct customer details to avoid spelling mistakes, rather that typing customer details manually.

With extra upfront work of finding that root cause this maximised the returns from automation, because multiple teams use the data that the workmen were entering into that system so solving the root cause can solve multiple processes.


If you want to learn more about lean Intelligent Automation in your office, subscribe to my YouTube channel Tony IA (Intelligent Automation, Simplified) for videos created weekly, to simplify intelligent automation for business leaders and professionals who are new to automation to level-up your knowledge. Become empowered on how you optimise your business and discover new technologies, in a lean and accelerate way. You can also learn more from my book, Business @ the Speed of Bots: The AEIO YOU method HOW TO IMPLEMENT ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION THAT SCALES. Get ready for the new digital transformation age for more information. The foreword is written by Guy Kirkwood, who is the Chief Evangelist at UiPath, and a very well-known advocate of RPA with over 20 years of experience in outsourcing.





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