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Virtual First | Effectiveness Kit

Do a root-cause analysis

You’ve been trying to make a key hire for eight months, with no success. Your site crashed unexpectedly, costing millions. When the reasons for your problem are complex and confusing, it’s time for a deeper investigation. Use this workshop to get to the bottom of things.



Step 1: Articulate what’s happening

Before you can understand why your problem is happening, you’ve got to know what’s going on in the first place. After you’ve opened your virtual meeting, pull up the What’s-our-problem worksheet (below) on your screen. Discuss each question together, then add your answers to the doc. When everyone agrees on what the problem is, move on to step 2.
What’s-our-problem worksheet

What’s our problem, anyway?

Use this worksheet to get a clearer picture of what’s happening, including “symptoms” and data that prove it’s a problem.


Step 2: Ask “Why?” 5 times

Now that you know what problem you’re having, you can dig into why it exists. Pull up the 5 why’s worksheet (below) on your screen. Add the problem you’re having, then follow the questions in the worksheet to identify the root cause. When you’re done, discuss: What did you notice? Did anything surprise, challenge, or confuse you? 
5 why’s worksheet

Wait, but why?

Use this worksheet to get to the bottom of your problem.

5 Why's worksheet

Step 3: Decide on next steps

Once you’ve identified your root cause, discuss how you can mitigate your problem or keep it from happening again. If you can assign concrete follow-ups and due dates in your meeting, go for it. For example, if your site crashed, some next steps might be: 

  • Draft a sample QA process — Monique, by 5/21
  • Investigate code exception tools — Justin, by 5/21
  • Write an apology to users and approve with comms — Jim, by 5/15
  • Revisit roadmap to make sure deadlines are reasonable — Eunice, by 5/15

3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: If you run into a problem, ask “What happened?”
  • Next week: Pick a recurring problem and do a quick 5 why’s exercise on your own.
  • Quarterly: Pick a recurring personal challenge and do a root-cause analysis of it.