Root Cause Problem Solving: The Surface Problem

To Solve a Problem You Must Identify the Surface Problem

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Poorly or ill-defined problems lead to poor solutions. The accurate definition of a problem is essential for effective problem solving. A Surface Problem is an obstacle that blocks the Expectation. This condition is unacceptable. “Surface” implies that the problem is immediate and observable, but the entire problem is not visible. In some terminology, the Surface Problem might also be called the symptom. The cause of a Surface Problem can be a single or multiple, less visible source. The Surface Problem is the difference or the gap between expected results (Expectation) and actual results (Alarm).

Why is The Surface Problem Important to Problem Solving?

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The Surface Problem is where, when, and how the Alarm does not measure up to the Expectation. In many cases, the Surface Problem will be similar to the Alarm but the Surface Problem will be very specific. If a team needs help in identifying and defining the Surface Problem, use one or more of the following questions to stimulate further discussion:

  • When is the Expectation not being met?
  • When does the Surface Problem occur?
  • When does the Surface Problem not occur?
  • What undesirable effects are occurring as a result of the Surface Problem?
  • Who is involved with the Surface Problem?
  • What is the frequency of error?
  • How often does the Surface Problem appear?
  • What is the intent of the discussion?

Never assume that everyone knows and agrees upon the Surface Problem or if it is acceptable or not acceptable. A problem exists when a situation is not meeting expectations. If team members disagree on this point, the problem-solving process becomes more difficult.

The Surface Problem Statement is to be written without use of the following words being either specifically stated or implied: such as, because, due to, resulting from.

Effective problem solving begins with accurately identifying the problem; therefore, it is absolutely essential that the problem be well defined. Remember, poorly defined problems lead to poor solutions.

Learn more about the 6 steps of Root Cause Problem Solving. Read Problem Terminators an Amazon ebook

Learn how to be a problem solver. Download The Master Facilitators Guide, Volume II, Creative Root Cause Analysis