Tag Archives: root cause analysis

What’s Common Between A Broken Down Road and Greece! (Or, The Art of Patchwork)

6 Jul

root cause

I’m deeply disturbed (and have been for a while).

This picture shows a scenario I pass daily on my way to and from home – I live in one of the so called posh residential areas with million dollar homes placed at the end of a sparkling new SEZ area – with many MNCs occupying the glass steel and chrome structures. This commercial complex has made the road to home much more cluttered, and in fact dangerous of late, with serious bottlenecks at peak times of traffic. At the entrance to one of the complexes, there are atleast 10 security men placed – to direct the office cab traffic vis a vis the road traffic better.

However, the road has some disrupted tiles – which have been disrupted for over two months now. And, guess what, the builder/ the municipality, or even the posh MNCs, instead of trying to get that piece of road repaired, have cordoned off that bit, and everyone drives around….thus further bottlenecking that piece of cluttered road.

Classic case of treating symptom but not root!!

We are very often guilty of this – in personal as well as professional lives. Not only that, one sees examples in macro economics and corporate scenarios!

Infact, the reason I wrote this piece today is that I was reminded of my dad – who had a temporary lack of vision a few years ago – he couldn’t see with one eye for some 3 – 4 hours suddenly. We took him to an eye specialist, who looked at the eye, and said it would be OK soon. My dad did recover vision by the end of the day. But a few months later, we discovered that he had developed a condition called CRVO – basically an irreversible blood clot in the ocular veins, which made him lose vision in that eye permanently. If only the doctor at the first instance had told us to get a heart check, or a BP check when we went to him, this cd maybe have ben avoided (as one of the reasons for CRVO is spikes in BP)!

Greek Debt Crisis Credit

Look at Greece. It’s currently in deep trouble. And simplistically, basically, despite many years of trouble, the Greeks did not improve public finance their core financial fundamentals – they tried to work with IMF and the World Bank on short term measures. Unfortunately, that’s not how an economy revives! Hence, Greece faces bankruptcy, and global stock markets are bearish!

Interestingly, India currently is doing kind of the same thing – the finance ministry is saying that RBI should reduce interest rates in order to increase growth. This is patchwork again! A very different scenario, in contrast, was India in the 1990s, when, faced by a severe BOP crisis, we created created structural fiduciary reforms (trade and industrial policy; and exchange rate and interest rate liberalization), thus enabling a big growth spurt due to creation almost of a new industry – the Outsourcing/ IT and ITES one!

Make-in-india Credit

Look at even the famous Make In India Campaign – it’s a very positive moniker, and a superior PR exercise (and to give our Prime Minister credit, he has been doing a great job of communicating it globally). But again, unless we change ground realities — the root of the problem rather than just the symptom, it’s going to remain just that – a PR exercise! So, think improving ease of doing business in India – we are talking fundamental changes in G2B and G2C processes – easy registrations, simpler statutory processes…the works!

Software engineers suffer this all the time – legacy software, bugs on bugs, patches on patches — the management question becomes – when do I trash this, and start fresh code? How long do I keep fixing it? Obviously, the economics of the situation are complex, but sometimes, its just better to re-start from scratch!

My wanting-to-be-cordon-bleu-chef daughter the other day learnt a hard lesson! She baked a cake – it got burnt! She did a superior rescue job actually with fancy icing, but, the damn cake was , truly burnt! Since she didn’t fix the root cause (in this case the only way to have done it was throw away the burnt cake and start afresh!), she suffered!


I must admit, I’ve used patchwork myself – I think the important skill is to determine, when, and to what extent, is treating symptom OK, and when you have to dig and find out what’s wrong!

In our start up, when we were trying to get the ISO certification, and the audits turned up “issues”, the common term was “CAPA” (corrective and preventive action) – a really good concept, as you undertook root cause analysis for any deviation from compliance, and then figured out a short term fix, or corrective action; and a real diagnostic long term fix – or the preventive action. That’s the approach we need!

So, to circle back to what’s disturbing me deeply — maybe I need to get up a citizen’s (or children’s) action group, and just lay some tiles on that patch of cordoned off road one saturday, a bit like the great work The Ugly Indian is doing!

And, Greece, maybe you deserve what happened to you – I tried to visit you some 5 years ago. I would have spent many dollars with you – I had arranged my leave, tickets, stay, baby sitting for my kids, and….you didn’t give me a visa! Poetic Justice?? After all, Hell hath no fury…