When something goes wrong in business, though people are involved, it is frequently the system and process that is the cause and the limitation.

Knowledge workers, people such as yourself, want to do their very best. Yet, their very best is often restrained or derailed by the system within which they must work. That system might consist of a tool, a team, a corporate value, reports, guidelines, budgets, or  just about anything that imposes boundaries or process upon knowledge workers.

When something goes wrong, it is useful to do look to the system within which knowledge worker must work. A “post-mortem” to determine causes is often appropriate and especially so if the activity or project is to be repeated often. A post-mortem requires the investigation team to drill down to find the underlying causes of the problem. TOYOTA corporation is credited with the realization that seldom is the first answer going to be the right or primary cause.

In Six Sigma, a statistical process often employed by corporations, there is a problem analysis phase known as the 5-WHYs, a reiterative questioning process credited to the TOYOTA car company. It’s akin to a child repetitively asking mom or dad, “But, why?”, for each answer given by mom or dad. Children learn to apply the 5-WHYs at an early age. Toyota teaches us, or, should we say, reminds us, that the first answer is seldom the true root of the cause and to ask reiteratively: But, why?…But, why?…But, why?…But, why?…But, why?

Success is frequently limited by the system and the process within which people must work. Rules and guidelines are important, but a certain amount of flexibility is also desirable. When things go wrong or objectives are missed, take a good, hard look at the system within which the doer must work. Often, the root cause of failure is the system and NOT THE PEOPLE.

To find causes of problems, analyze the SYSTEM.