Fair to say I love Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and I deeply hate RCA.
That doesn’t look very helpful or fair enough. Isn’t it?
I shall try to explain my love and my concern..
For a simple and complicated systems RCA is rather helpful. No doubt about it.
But for Complex Systems RCA is a complete disaster.
I try explaining this but people seem to have a hard time getting it. They keep trying to apply RCA to all sorts of applications such as a) Project Management b) Equipment Failures in industries c) Human-Machine interfaces and a host of other things..
The funny thing is they consistently fail to explain why something happens in a complex system through RCA but then they consistently keep trying to apply the famous Why-Why…technique till they “ungorgeously” drop dead.
And why not?
I suspect we internally feel very insecure if we fail to find the cause or predict an outcome with any degree of accuracy when something either goes wrong or goes for a booming success. Otherwise we seem to feel insulted. Our intellect is insulted. Our imagined self esteem gets a shock of its life. Our education, training and mastery over many subjects are questioned…..
So why does RCA which works so well for simple and complicated systems miserably fail when dealing with complex systems or for that matter complex adaptive systems?
The distinction is deceptively simple —
1) For simple and complicated systems — events that happen are due to resultants.
2) For complex systems — events that happen are due to emergence
And there is a gulf of difference between resultant and emergence. Resultants lead to specific outcomes. Whereas Emergent events are simply depictions of the varied outcomes that might arise from a set of interactions. How? In a complex system change in quantity of any parameter within a set of interactions changes the emergent behavior of the system.
Therefore, for simple and complicated systems we ask ‘Why‘. That is we predict the outcome as accurately as possible. Perfectly simple.
But for a complex system we ask ‘How might this happen?’ In this case we anticipate or foresee possible outcomes (in the short term only). We must have patience and courage to Explain. Might go wrong at times. Perfectly simple too.
So I become cautious and worried whenever I hear anything close to these:–
a) Ah! Here is the root cause of….
b) This is a simple case of human neglect…
c) Oh! This is a plain case of lubrication failure…
d) Fatigue is the reason for this failure…
e) The supplier was at fault for…
f) We don’t know how to manufacture or operate or construct…..
This is because more than 90% of events that keep happening around us are neither simple nor complicated. They are complex.
Do you share my caution or worry?
Want to read more on this?
Here are some related articles-
- The limitations of root cause analysis (mosaicprojects.wordpress.com)
- Root Cause Analysis (mosaicprojects.wordpress.com)
- The Fallacy of Blind Men and the Elephant Metaphor (herdingcats.typepad.com)
- Eric Berlow: Simplifying complexity (ddrrnt.com)
The cartoon is taken from Facebook page: Life is a Bitch: http://tinyurl.com/c3ftxao
Note: This is a part of the course on Rapidinnovation: https://rgbwaves.wordpress.com/offer/
2 thoughts on “Learning Complexity – Leadership Series .. 2”
This is simply fantastic. There is a sea difference between resultant & emergence. Few years back I faced a strange case with my 2-wheeler, which I used everyday to commute between Rourkela & Kansbahal. Everyday the horn would not work properly in a particular 4km long stretch (Panposh-Vedbyas). For the remaining 16km of the road horn would work fine. I shared my concern with some mechanics. But all said that this is impossible as they could not see any cause. But that was happening everyday. I don’t know why that was happening. Perhaps high concentration of dust & suspended particles affected the contact point affecting the performance of the horn.
Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. That clearly demonstrates the difference between ‘resultant’ and ’emergence’.