A Brief Lesson in Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a method used for process improvement in manufacturing, but it can be effectively applied to everyday life. The basic concept is that root causes, not symptoms, are identified and fixed in order to reduce defects and failure. This takes more time than solving the proximal cause (symptom), but solves the true problem and will result in a better solution.

Imagine there's a leak in your basement. You don't like that there's water on your basement floor. In order to quickly solve the problem, you put a pot underneath the leak so the water is caught. This is an example of solving the proximal cause, not the root cause.

When a problem occurs in strength training or life, the underlying cause must be understood to determine the best solution. A great way to do this is the 'Five Why' method where you ask 'why?' five times.

1. There's water on my basement floor. Why?

2. Water is leaking out of the pipe in my basement. Why?

3. A pipe in my basement is loose. Why?

4. The pipe won't stay tight after it's tightened. Why?

5. The nylon tape on the pipe threading was installed in the wrong direction. Why?

6. The installation was done by a new home owner that didn't know what they were doing.

The best solution from this analysis is to re-tape the nylon on the pipe correctly and tighten the pipe. If the first question isn't even asked, then the solution 'put a pot under the dripping water' may be the solution the subject thinks is best.

This happens all of the time in strength training, especially with foolish trainers. They see that the squat weight is not going up each workout, and they think the hip extensors are weak, because the trainee leaves their chest too far down when standing up. What they decide to do is use a corrective exercise (an isolated hip extension machine) to make the hip extensors stronger. This is the same as putting a pot under the leak in your basement. A superior method is to fix the squat by reducing the weight on the bar, performing the exercise correctly with the chest in the right position, and increasing the weight from there. This method would be comparable re-taping the threading on the leaky pipe in your basement.

This can be applied anywhere in life to determine the best solution. Think about this when you have a problem in strength training or life. There is likely a problem deeper than what you see, and asking 'why?' can draw out these problems and allow you to find the most robust solution. If you run into a stall at the gym or develop pain, as 'why?'. Do some research and figure out the underlying mechanisms to your problems and then fix the root cause, not the proximal cause.