When everything fees like a Root Cause

I am preparing a talk on Jobs-to-be-Done for the Brisbane Business Analysts Meetup in March.  For this particular talk, I am re-telling the Milkshake Story as told by Clayton Christensen to introduce the mental model of a Job to my fellow Business Analysts.

I know what it means to me and how I apply it to work. That is what I plan to share.

As I work on it the same thought keeps popping into my head.  How is this different to a Root Cause Analysis? Essentially how is this any different to asking a lot of why’s to get to the important point.

Intuitively to me, it is different in a way I can’t quite explain.

I should define what I mean by Root Cause Analysis in the context of this post. I am specifically thinking of the 5-whys technique. Of troubleshooting and finding out why something isn’t working as expected.

Then on Thursday last week I came across post from Ramit Sethi that discusses a methodology called Immunity to Change (ITC) from an organisation called Minds at Work.

The psychologists, Dr. Lisa Lahey and Dr. Robert Kegan, who run Minds at Work are interested in why people don’t do they things they set out to do, even though they really do want to do them. They truly believe in their goal, say losing weight, but somehow it just does not happen.

The gem of the idea behind ITC is that we have many goals. Some of them are front of mind, and some are not. These goals compete with each other for attention and one always wins. Often the one that wins is not the one front of mind.

We are simply not aware we have another competing goal. One that may be more important to us. One that is might be based on a fear and is protecting us from ourselves.

As I was watching the video in Ramit’s post and seeing Dr Lahey go through the process with him I had that same thought, how is this different to a root cause analysis?

During my train ride home, I was reading more about ITC and I remembered a concept from Nero-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that has stuck with me for years, that everyone does something for a positive reason, even if the thing they are doing is objectively bad for them.

Take smoking for example. You know it is bad for you, and you are committed to quitting. But there is often another reason you keep doing what you do. It may be the social aspect of smoking, to fit in with those around you or to stand out, or to get the gossip from the smoking area outside the office.

Whatever your reason, it is first a personal reason, and it is a positive reason. You are not doing it to deliberately harm yourself.

Again, what makes this different from root cause analysis?

The similarity is that they are all interested in why. But these other concepts are different in the way they ask why.

The ‘standard’ root cause analysis is looking for a fault or for blame. Your focus is on why something happened or didn’t happen. You are looking for the negative. That is the mindset.

The NLP and ITC concepts suggest a different reason and a different model for understanding why things happen the way they do. Why we behave the way we do, while still answering a why question.

They are saying that there is a reason, but the reason might not be in the chain of causality. They are saying that there is another set of forces you need to be aware of acting on the situation. It is a  different mindset.

It is about looking for the positive reason why you are seeing what you are seeing. Not positive from your  reference point, but positive from the actors reference point.

I think the Jobs to be Done concept is the same. It is about framing the way you think about a requirement.

Yes, it is a why, but it is a different unit of analysis.

I think there are many parallels with ITC and NLP. When a customer is telling you what they want, they truly believe that that is what they want. This is why many of the traditional methods of requirements gathering are so compelling and seductive.

But there is a gap we are all aware of. Projects that do not deliver the stated business outcomes. Requirements that change during the project and so on.

There are of course many reasons why projects are less than successful. I am not suggesting this is the only one. There are also many ways of combatting these problems.

The human mind is complex and how it perceives the world around it, and what influences that perception is not well understood by most.

Let’s draw an analogy with fast food. You want to eat healthily, you really do, but your need to eat quickly wins. It is not about being healthy, you may be tired and have no time to cook, so the fast food restaurant wins. Ease, simplicity, or speed won out. For the health goal to win you might need to cast your net wider, to remove the temptation, or allow enough time for cooking. Who knows. It is personal to you.

We can all benefit from learning more about how our minds work and how subjective our view of the world is.

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