Are You Really Fixing the Cause of the Problem or Are You Just Fixing the Effect?

Are You Really Fixing the Cause of the Problem or Are You Just Fixing the Effect?

Posted by Scott Sterbenz on Jul 1, 2019 8:19 am

Today's post is a classic reminder of what Six Sigma is all about, but it's worth some discussion.  Nothing aggravates me more than working with teams that claim to have fixed an issue in the past, only to have it return again either on the same model or a future model.  "Scott, I thought we fixed the issue, but it keeps coming back over and over again.  We don't know what to do!  We need you!"  I will admit it's nice to be needed, but these are situations where I really shouldn't be needed.  One of the most powerful tools in the Six Sigma tool chest is the y=f(x) cascade.  It goes by other names in other problem solving techniques, but the y=f(x) cascade allows the problem solver to make logical or physics-based links between output variables and input variables.  Without this thought process, it is so easy to make the mistake of thinking you are fixing the cause (the final input variable), when in reality you are only fixing the effect (either the output variable or not the final input variable).

Let me provide a simple example.  I was watching a show on TV where home was infested with mold and the children were constantly sick.  The parents did not initially know about the mold until their home was inspected, and the mold counts were extraordinarily high, especially in all the bedrooms.  The company they had come in to do the repairs cleaned up all the mold, replaced all the affected drywall and carpet, and then handed the keys back to the homeowner.  The process took about three months.  Fortunately, in that time, the health of the children significantly improved.  But during the entire remediation of the home, I kept waiting for the big reveal of what caused the mold in the first place.  Was it a leaky roof, a foundation problem, a leaking fixture?  They never said!!  I Immediately questioned my wife, who was watching with me--"Did they really fix the problem, because if not, they spent all this money and the mold is just going to came back again!"

Think about that the next time you are addressing a problem at your workplace, or even at home.  Don't fall into the trap of fixing the effect but not fixing the cause.  Otherwise, the problem will come back--you'll have to deal with it again instead of working on solving another high leverage problem that better deserves your attention.
Best, Scott C. Sterbenz, P.E. ASQ Six Sigma Forum