When everything is functioning well with learning and training in your company, here’s what it looks like: Your company’s business goals are well-defined in terms of where you want to be. You benchmark and track the performance levels needed to get there. When performance reality doesn’t match up with performance goals, you identify the gaps and then create learning and training programs to fill those gaps. Sounds easy, right? But the devil, as they say, is in the details. The biggest hang-up in the process for most companies comes in the form of accurately identifying what is needed to bridge performance gaps – the needs analysis. In this article, I’ll explain how you can use root cause analysis to identify what’s behind performance gaps in order to more accurately shape your eLearning objectives.

Root cause analysis for elearning objectives

Digging Deeper Than Symptoms with Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a great method that can be applied in any problem-solving setting. If you don’t actively and intentionally use one of several different root cause analysis tools, you run the risk of only addressing one or more symptoms of a bigger problem. This is where the “tip of the iceberg” metaphor comes into play. When you notice a problem, it might be small or might be huge. You can’t always tell by your first glance at it. What you see might only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Root cause analysis is a way to make sure you’re not missing whatever might be lurking beneath the surface of a seemingly small problem.

A gardening metaphor helps to understand the need for root cause analysis. When dandelions start popping up all over your yard in the spring, you can run around giving a good yank to each one, essentially tearing it off at ground level. But if you the roots are still in the ground, the dandelions will grow back (and rather quickly). To eliminate any weeds in your lawn or garden, they have to be pulled out by the roots. And if you want to solve serious problems in your company, you’ve got to accurately identify and deal with their root causes. All too often, managers deal with symptoms and unknowingly allow the root cause of the problem to fester and grow. Yes, it takes more work to find and address root causes, but the long-lasting results of truly correcting serious problems is totally worth the effort!

Your Secret Weapon is One Word: WHY

Toyota is well-known for developing the whole “lean” movement it started in manufacturing to systematically eliminate waste and increase efficiency without sacrificing productivity or quality. One of the company’s leading industrial engineers, Shigeo Shingo, revealed a key aspect of Toyota’s process: “A relentless barrage of ‘whys’ is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often.” As it turns out, asking this humble one-word question repeatedly is the best way to get to the root cause of nearly any problem. Another of Toyota’s industrial engineers, Taiichi Ohno, was considered to be the driving force behind lean manufacturing. He said, “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all…Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.” Here’s how it can work for your learning team by way of example:

Let’s say a software company with one product isn’t meeting its sales targets. Company leadership suggests the salespeople need additional training. Your learning team kicks into high gear and creates a new training for salespeople and implements it, but there is no improvement in sales. Now people are pointing fingers at your team for failing to get results. But the real problem is that no one asked the simple question of WHY. A series of why questions could have gone like this:

  1. Why are sales not hitting targets? Someone mentions how there has been a recent rash of negative ratings on software review sites for the company’s product.
  2. Why are there more negative reviews? Digging into the reviews reveals nearly all the negativity is focused on customer support.
  3. Why has customer support gone downhill? You discover call times have increased significantly due to an increase in customers having questions about new features.
  4. Why do customers have more questions about new features? As it turns out, the new features were rolled out without adequate documentation explaining them to customers.
  5. Why were new features not adequately documented? The technical writing team is understaffed and overworked.

If everyone had just taken the time to drill down by asking why multiple times, the true nature of the problem would have been revealed – and it had absolutely nothing to with training the company’s salespeople! This series of why questions also could have gone differently. For example, the answer to why #3 might have been that the customer support agents don’t know enough about the new features in order to quickly resolve customer questions about them. If that had been the case, then new training might well be in order to get the customer support team up-to-speed on new product features. And there might still have been the issue around documentation as well. Either way, it’s asking why that reveals what’s going on.

Think of your learning team as a doctor. Your task is to do more than cover up symptoms or jump to solutions that may not even apply. You’ve got to help accurately diagnose the true problem and then come up with the right treatment program to fix it, which may or may not be a well-designed eLearning course or training session. Root cause analysis is the most important tool you need practice using in order to be successful in the learning and training needs assessment process.

Regardless of how you figure out what eLearning programs need to be created, you need the right learning management system (LMS) to help get them out to your workers and track results. Try eLeaP for a 30-day free trial to see if it’s the right solution for your company!