Book Review

Apollo Root Cause Analysis - A New Way Of Thinking
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Apollo Root Cause Analysis - A New Way Of Thinking

By: Dean L. Gano

Paperback - 192 pages
Published by: Apollonian Publications
Publication Date: 1999
ISBN: 1883677017

Our Review

I really enjoyed reading this book - it gives an interesting, and challenging, perspective to the Root Cause Analysis process, and the Apollo process appears to be very simple and easy to apply, yet likely to be highly effective. In addition, there are a number of insights into the process that would be highly applicable to individuals and organizations, regardless of what process they are using for conducting Root Cause Analysis. This book is highly recommended reading for anyone who is either involved in an existing Root Cause Analysis process, or who is considering implementing such a process - and is extremely good value for money.

The book itself is 192 pages long, and consists of 7 chapters and one Appendix. In the introduction, Gano states that "Because this book challenges conventional wisdom, it may not validate your existing belief system". This is certainly the case, but Gano does an excellent job of fully explaining his point of view, and certainly managed to bring me around to his way of thinking. The first chapter examines the typical ways that most people tackle problem solving, and explains why those methods rarely work in permanently resolving problems. Chapter 2 introduces Cause and Effect concepts, while Chapters 3 to 5 introduce the Apollo method tools. Chapter 6 provides guidance to those people who may be facilitating teams in solving problems, and Chapter 7 highlights the attributes of the Apollo method. The Appendix provides a brief comparison of different approaches to conducting Root Cause Analysis. It is easily read, and everyone from Managers to Shop Floor personnel would gain something from reading this book.

In his book, Gano makes a number of challenging, yet very valid points.

First, he notes that to be successful, problem solving processes have to effectively combine critical thinking processes, with creative thinking processes. Often, the most effective solutions to problems are overlooked simply because people haven't bothered to look for them. The challenge is to unlock the creative potential within all of us - and this starts by realising what barriers we put up (in order to make life easier for ourselves) that block creative thought. Gano outlines 7 common problem solving practices that lead to less than optimal solutions. These include:

  • Stopping Too Soon - often caused by time pressures, and the perceived need to get on with implementing a solution, this leads often leads to the situation where the symptoms of problems are addressed, rather than the causes.
  • The Need to Place Blame - the belief that punishment will improve behavior in adults is not supported by any facts or studies, according to Gano, and assigning blame is rarely effective in generating long-lasting solutions to problems.
  • The Root Cause Myth - with the buzz words "Root Cause Analysis" a great myth has been created, according to Gano. This myth is that there is a single root cause for any problem. This common, but misguided approach assumes that all causal relationships are linear and that all problems are born from a single source. Gano uses the example of a fire to illustrate the fallacy of this thinking. To commence, a fire must have three items present - an ignition source, combustible material, and oxygen. Removing any one of these elements prevents the possibility of fire - so the root cause of the fire will depend on which element we choose to try to eliminate.
  • The Illusion of Common Sense and a Single Reality - "common sense" is often used as an excuse for why others do not see thing the way that we see them, and then punishing them for it. In reality, we are all unique, and there are many differences in our perceptions, experiences and belief systems that mean that, effectively, the possibility of us all perceiving the world in the same way is a biological impossibility - and therefore the notion of a common, shared reality is an illusion.
  • Groovenation - this is a term that Gano created to describe the process of justifying our beliefs - and we all do it. We all filter the information that we receive, and tend to place higher value on that information that confirms our existing beliefs, and discount that which conflicts with our existing beliefs.Storytelling - our primary form of communication is through storytelling. While often entertaining, storytelling seldom identifies causes, because they are linear, sequential in time, and do not encourage rigorous analysis of causes.
  • Categorical Thinking - this is caused by the mind's need to order what it perceives, but unfortunately often leads to intellectual laziness.

The Apollo method is simple, with (as with all similar processes) a Cause-Effect diagram at its heart. In identifying causes, Gano makes the point that every effect has at least two causes in the form of Actions (momentary causes that bring conditions together at a point of time to cause an effect), and Conditions (causes that exist over time prior to an action). As simple as it is, the Apollo method is structured in such a way as to maximise the possibility of creative thought, and the generation of effective solutions to problems. In fact, the process is so simple, that it can be effectively used by individuals, acting alone, to address all sorts of problems. Its real power, however, comes from using the power of groups to address problems.

Throughout the book, Gano offers practical tips, based on his obvious experience, for how to ensure that the Apollo process can be made most effective. In particular, the chapter dealing with facilitating groups through the process provides potential facilitators with a number of highly useful tips for dealing with problem solving teams.

The Appendix compares alternative approaches to Problem Solving and Root Cause Analysis. While no "brand names" are used, Gano classifies different approaches into two groups - Categorization Schemes, and Causal Relationship models. It should come as no surprise that he is not in favour of the former approach, where typically a hierarchical outline, checklist or "Cause Tree" is used, from which a Root Cause is chosen. He also briefly addresses the "Fill out a form" model, frequently used by Government, and for safety incidents, of which he is equally scathing - describing it as "pathetically incomplete".

In summary - this book is a rare and valuable combination - it is highly readable, challenges a number of common misconceptions, and yet is highly practical. Well worth reading by anyone interested in Root Cause Analysis or Problem Solving, and is excellent value for money.

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