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Analytical Strategy That Works

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My mind is always working to understand things. Specifically, I want to know how things work, why things aren't working, and how they should be working. This is just how I think. Most likely, I've always had a skill in getting to the root causes of any issue; however, over time, I've been attracted to strategies to sharpen this skill as much as possible.

I consider root cause determination a key success strategy in any business. The closer you get to the root causes, the more leverage that you have in changing results. Many people waste days, weeks, and years trying to solve problems by focusing on the symptoms. Like treating the common cold, treating the symptoms will make you feel better, but it won't make you well.

So, how do you determine root causes? One strategy is called the "Top Down / Bottom Up" approach. This approach is a two-phase process:
  1. Study the problem or issue from a high level. Identify all of the major components of the process. In this phase, you ask and answer general questions. What is the end result that you want to achieve? What needs to have to achieve this result and what is keeping you from achieving it? Who should be involved? Who is involved? Who will benefit from a solution? What do we have to gain? (Notice these questions are what and who questions primarily).
  2. Focus in minute detail on one aspect of the issue that you suspect maybe contributing to the faulty result. What's at issue here is why things are being done in a certain way or why things are happening. Keep asking why. In fact, ask why five times to flesh out each detail. For example, (1) why is labor cost higher than budget? Overtime (2) why do we need this overtime? Too many things to do (3) why isn't the staffing level sufficient? There are too many customer demands. (4) why don't we hire more people? Not enough time. (5) why doesn't the manager see the problem with this logic?
By approaching a problem or issue from a broad perspective then from a focused perspective, key variables start to become apparent. This process conditions your mind to focus on both the big picture and the details. The problem is often identified in step 1. While the solution usually becomes apparent in step 2.
Try it and let me know how it works for you.
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