Root Cause Analysis: Lean Muppets Series Post 6

Jim BensonPrimers3 Comments

Bert Takes an Intellectual Short Cut and Winds Up Lost.

Solutions require experiments. Ernie wants to eat cookies in bed, but when crumbs become problematic he needs to find a solution.

Bert was attempting the management role of problem solver. Bert could see the whole problem as well as the (obvious) solution, but was clearly missing the mark on his problem solving approach.

Bert’s first problem was allowing Ernie to engage in fundamental attribution error. Fundamental attribution error is when we personify a problem. By focusing on Ernie eating cookies and the crumbs getting in Ernie’s pajamas, the solution domain became Ernie himself.

The second problem with Bert’s approach was that his application of the Socratic method was inconsistent. The structure is fairly simple: continue to ask “Why?” until assumptions are stripped away. So it’s great when Bert asks, “What are you doing with those cookies in bed, huh?” But then he starts to lead Ernie through Bert’s personal logic trail, and Ernie understands merely what Bert said about this particular application, not the underlying system.

Ernie and Bert as well may have taken on Toyota’s Five Whys. Bert approaches Ernie with a problem he noticed – as well as a potential solution – but Ernie needs to understand the problem’s context and make sure the solution actually addresses the root cause. So when Bert said that Ernie should not eat cookies in bed, then we could have had this progression:

Bert: Ernie, I believe we should have an official policy placing a moratorium on all biscuit-style baked goods in sleeping areas.

Ernie: Why is that, Bert? (Why One)

Bert: Because people aren’t getting enough sleep.

Ernie: Why is that, Bert? (Why Two)

Bert: Because people are getting itchy.

Ernie: Why is that, Bert?  (Why Three)

Bert: Because there are crumbs in their pajamas.

Ernie: Why is that, Bert? (Why Four)

Bert: Ernie! Can’t you see the logic here?

Ernie: Just humor me Bert. Taiichi Ohno said, “Ask why five times in every endeavor.” I’m just being lean.

Bert: (sighs) Okay, because there was crumbs in the sheets.

Ernie: Ahh! This makes sense, Bert! Why are there crumbs in the sheets? (Why Five)


Ernie: Yes, this makes sense Bert. But it’s not just me. I see there’s a system here that when one eats cookies in bed, one gets crumbs first in the sheets, then into their pajamas, and then they itch and can’t get to sleep.

Bert: Good, now that that’s all understood, can we stop eating cookies in bed?

Ernie: Are you kidding? Eating cookies in bed is my only perk working here! Perhaps we can all wear wetsuits to bed instead, that should keep the crumbs out.

Bert: (sighs again)

When we approach any problem, understanding how to frame it and investigate root causes is vital for finding a real solution…or a silly one.

This is sixth in a series of Lean Muppet Posts: For a list of Lean Muppet posts and an explanation of why we did this, look here -> Lean Muppets Introduction


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Jim BensonRoot Cause Analysis: Lean Muppets Series Post 6

3 Comments on “Root Cause Analysis: Lean Muppets Series Post 6”

  1. Pingback: The Lean Muppet Series: Introduction | Personal Kanban

  2. Brian Hodgman

    Can this post please be tagged with “muppets” like the others in the series for easy finding?

  3. Pingback: Root Cause Analysis – I Love Windsong

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