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Manufacturing / R&D

Techniques to Uncover the Systemic Root Cause

Quartz Editorial Team

Quartz Editorial Team


When organizational problems arise, quick fixes offer a tempting choice. Patch it up. Move on. We’re busy.

But eliminating the symptoms of an issue without addressing the systemic root cause can wreak havoc on even the most resilient organizations. 

Whirlpool Corporation’s Simona Pappalardo understands this deeply. As the multinational manufacturer’s Senior Director for Global Quality, she shares expertise on the topic in a recent Quartz Network presentation. WIth a career spanning 15+ years, Pappalardo has seen firsthand how treating symptoms, rather than systemic root causes, can affect the bottom line.

Predict, Protect, and Prevent

So how does an organization discover the systemic root cause to predict and prevent issues? 

Pappalardo explains the two most important questions organizations must ask themselves: 

  1. What went wrong in our process?
  2. What needs to be improved in the future? 

This brings us to the Predict, Protect, and Prevent method, a system that clarifies the three key types of root causes.

  • (Predict) Technical Root Cause – What caused the problem that needs correcting?
  • (Protect) Escape Root Cause – Why wasn’t the problem detected sooner?
  • (Prevent) System Root Cause – What went wrong in the process and needs improving?

In her presentation, Pappalardo describes how to effectively use “Predict, Prevent, Protect” to solve long-lasting issues and drive real change within organizations. 

The Predict, Protect, Prevent method is often paired with the “3×5 Why” problem-solving method. While the details of “3X5 Why” are slightly complex, the basic structure of the system revolves around asking “Why?” enough times to move past superficial causes and identify the problem’s systemic root cause.  

While both systems vary somewhat, they hinge on a common goal: “Find the Why and Address it Directly.”

Predict, Prevent, Protect to Uncover Systemic Root Cause

Drawing from her experiences at Whirlpool, Pappalardo shares a compelling example of addressing systemic root causes in her presentation.

As she explains, Whirlpool had a problem with loose change clogging the drains of its washing machines. While the problem could be seen as a user error, a deeper dive into the issue revealed a larger problem.

Understanding the true deep root cause, in a systematic way, will really boost your organization’s learning to the next level.

Simona Pappalardo

As she explains, Whirlpool had a problem with loose change clogging the drains of its washing machines. While the problem could be seen as a user error, a deeper dive into the issue revealed a larger problem. 

Upon further investigation they soon realized they were overlooking a real-life scenario in lab testing. Although they were adding clothes to the wash during testing, they neglected to place objects in the pockets of the clothing: a common occurrence that hadn’t been accounted for. 

This realization correlates with the Escape Route/Protect step of the process. The problem was not detected sooner because the team did not have an appropriate test plan in place.

“Understanding the true deep root cause, in a systematic way, will really boost your organization’s learning to the next level,” she explained. 

Watch the presentation now to learn how Whirlpool set out to solve their systemic root problems.