An old boss of mine once told me that to find the real root of any problem you should ask ‘Why?’ five times. This sage Yoda-like advice has served me well ever since. Of course it’s not always necessary to ask it the full five times; in fact you often find the foundational cause sooner. Nonetheless, this approach will inevitably guide you toward discovering what needs to be fixed.
Those who follow my blog know that I post mostly within two thematic areas – emergency management or training. The ‘ask why’ methodology applies to both of these areas and darn near anything else I can think of. My thoughts are below on both themes. Of course training in the field of emergency management is a combination of the two!
In Emergency Management
I’ve posted numerous times on topics such as hazard analysis, Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA), and other similar topics in emergency management. It is so incredibly necessary for us to identify needs and vulnerabilities, and to understand our community’s capabilities in order to properly prepare for future disasters and emergencies. I’ve learned that in public safety, when asking a question, you often get a story and that story is often related to a past incident. While the story may be elaborate, it usually gives you little substance. Anecdotes aren’t enough. You need to dig deeper.
As a culture within public safety we are still trying to drive practitioners to be more analytical. Quality after action reports are a big step in the right direction. The benefits of after action reports for incidents, not just exercises, are huge. After action reports should lead to improvement plans, but without identifying the real reason behind what went wrong we can’t fix the problems. After action reports require an analysis to dig deeper into the observed action to discover what really needs to be addressed.
In November I published an article in Training Magazine titled The Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause. While I didn’t reference the ‘ask why’ methodology directly, the subject matter of the article lends itself to this approach. As a trainer, when a problem is presented to you to ‘fix with training’, you need to figure out what the real issues are so that 1) you can confirm that it is in fact a training issue, and 2) you can determine what the objectives and methodologies of the training need to be. Without properly identifying and defining the needs you are doomed to fail and will likely be putting forth a lot of effort with little gain. While the results may put some people on the defensive, they can point the organization in the right direction to address inefficiencies and performance problems.
In any needs assessment, don’t simply accept the first answer given to you – dig deeper! It’s amazing what you will find!
© 2014 – Timothy Riecker