Politics and (the Lack of) Root Cause Analysis

Posted on September 13, 2012 | in Change Management, Lean Tools, Manufacturing, Root Cause Analysis | by

barack obama mitt romney united states president election 2012 abc news democratic republican liberal conservative issues lean blitz consulting root cause analysis five whys pdsa dmaic

As a continuous improvement practitioner, I have a significant disdain for politics. By politics, in this case I’m referring to the democratic elections and campaigning by individuals running for public office while representing strategic political platforms and their social/economical/management policies.

The reason I have this disdain is rooted in my definition of the political process as it appears today: large platforms built on non-transparent agendas and firmly-held beliefs of the answers to alleged problems without proper definition of the problems or identification of the root causes of those problems. Basically, a lot of discussion of broad answers without knowing why we have the problems in the first place.

Whenever we hear political debates, the folks up at the podiums talk about making changes or telling us what the answers are. What I don’t hear is where we are or how we got to where we are. The government, from top to bottom, features a significant lack of social and fiscal root cause analysis. The same can be said about the process of running for public office – there’s not enough time to establish a large foundation of credibility nor enough access to the right data, so candidates have to speak at length about solutions that may or may not actually fix the problems.

Speaking specifically to the U.S. Presidential Elections from 2008, then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s big slogan was “Change.” Well, change to what? And why? Either way, he became our president. As a change agent, I’m in support of change as long as it’s for the better. However, he didn’t even know what the true root causes were for many problems – in his defense, no one else did either. He has instituted change in many facets of society in his four years, but have those changes pulled us in the right direction? We don’t know, because we haven’t even identified where we’re supposed to be! 

Political parties muddy the waters – they are staunch supporters beholden to a series of solutions when they fail to properly address the problems themselves. This is the equivalent of a faction of shop floor employees demanding the continued use of an environmentally-friendly multi-purpose cleaning substance on machines because of its green-ness when the cleaning substance demonstrates it isn’t even effective at cleaning in the first place.

When there are no root causes identified, ambiguity ensues and chaos begins to reign. Candidates begin to attack the already-crackling foundation of their opposition whether it’s justified or not (and is nearly always inconsequential – Obama’s birth certificate, Romney’s tax returns). I believe this to be the ad hominem fallacy.

Here’s a reason for why we have such a huge federal deficit: by not identifying proper root causes, we’re throwing money at solutions that don’t work. We’re shipping money to China to make products as cheap as possible so we can afford to buy them here because we think the root cause for not selling enough products here is because they’re too expensive. We’re funding social programs because we think it helps solve societal issues when it just delays the inevitable (I’m looking at you, Social Security.) We think the solution to poverty is creation of jobs, we think the solution to creating jobs is to shoo away the migrant farmers working for less than minimum wage so Americans can have those jobs, we think the solution to paying those Americans higher wages on those farms is by boosting food prices, we think the solution for Americans to pay those higher food prices is by raising minimum wage…but this is all backwards thinking. None of this properly addresses the root cause of our federal deficit.

That’s why I love Lean and continuous improvement. Successful implementation features validated root cause analysis – use of the five-whys to identify the root cause, which lead directly to the optimal solution, data that has explanations and removes ambiguity, and arguments about how to do things better can generally be solved with the use of a stopwatch.

I don’t want “policy change.” I refuse to have long-standing beliefs about the answers to all of society’s problems. Why? Because I don’t know all of society’s problems and for those I do know, I’m unsure of the true root causes.

So what do I want? Identified root causes. Defined problems. Use of the DMAIC framework for problem solving and implementing improvements. Maybe a little PDSA thrown in. I want policy optimization. I guarantee your political party doesn’t have the right answer.

So politicians, if you want my vote, don’t start giving me answers to problems you haven’t even properly defined.

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2 Responses to “Politics and (the Lack of) Root Cause Analysis”

  1. Pingback: The Filth and Disgusting Health Behaviors at Wrigley Field | Lean Blitz – Do it better.

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