Are You Hungry for TapRooT®? by Kevin McManus
I’ve been teaching, facilitating, and leading process improvement efforts for almost 35 years, but I’ve only known about TapRooT® for ten of those years. Eight of those initial 25 years were spent working as a Production Manager or Plant Manager in two different food plants, where we of course tried to do process improvement on a regular basis as well. While we did achieve a lot of process improvement success at these two locations, in spite of using the more traditional, opinion-based root cause tools (such as the five whys, fishbone diagrams, and fault trees), I can say without hesitation that we would have significantly benefited from using TapRooT® instead.
Food companies should be hungry for TapRooT®, just as other highly regulated industries such as nuclear power and oil production are. While I believe that any process in any type of organization can benefit from the design and systemic advantages that are inherent to the TapRooT® root cause analysis approach, I think food companies in particular should have embraced this approach more than they have to-date. Why do I feel this way? What are the key factors that support my beliefs that food companies should be hungry for the TapRooT® cause analysis process?
To begin with, food safety is just as critical as personal safety in a food plant. In fact, it has been my experience that food safety receives an even greater focus than personal safety does in your average food plant, simply because so many customers can be affected by a food safety incident. Most food companies know this, and in turn, they invest a lot of time and money to help make sure that product recalls don’t occur or that contaminated food does not find its way into the marketplace in the first place. At the same time, these same companies often fail to search for better – more cost effective – ways to ensure an equivalent, or higher, level of food safety.
Think about it. How much time and money do you invest trying to get people to follow Good Manufacturing Practices? How successful are you in accomplishing this goal? What systems do you rely on to make sure that batching errors don’t occur, that equipment breakdowns don’t result in late or lost customer orders, or that products aren’t shipped with the wrong labels or other product misinformation on them? Ingredient errors, equipment breakdowns, mislabeled products, and other forms of food rework and waste occur daily in most food plants, but we fortunately have multiple levels of safeguards in place to help keep these everyday problems from compromising order accuracy or timeliness, or food safety in general.
In short, food companies spend a lot of time and money correcting mistakes so that the product that leaves the plant is correctly labeled, properly produced, and of the quantities that are desired and expected. They expend a lot of effort to make sure that people are not injured by either the production process or the food itself. The key question remains however. What are these costs, and how could the use of the TapRooT® root cause analysis help significantly reduce these costs?
The answer is relatively simple. A lot of research and customer experiences have helped create the TapRooT® approach that is taught today. The TapRooT® root cause tree essentially represents a list of the 102 main root causes of human error and the 22 root causes of equipment difficulty. The larger TapRooT® process helps you conduct better investigations of a given problem, better define the true root causes of those problems, and develop corrective actions that are more likely to both be implemented and work. Instead of relying on the knowledge and facilitation skills of the user to find the root causes of problems, like the more common opinion-based root cause tools do, the TapRooT® process is designed to help you filter out those possible root causes that are not supported by the facts of your investigation, leaving those that are. The hundreds of questions in the TapRooT® dictionary help you learn to ask better questions in general, both during your investigations and during the root cause selection process itself.
When I reflect back on my food plant management career, I can vividly remember the different types of human error and equipment difficulty that I encountered every day. While my years of process improvement experience, coupled with serving fifteen years as a Baldrige National Quality Award Examiner, helped me analyze and address many of these issues in a manner that kept key problems from coming back, I can still easily say that we would have made faster progress at a lower cost had we had the benefits of the TapRooT® process at our disposal. Had I not learned from leading more than 50 problem solving team projects and more than one hundred individual process improvement projects prior to assuming these roles, I shudder to think what my success rate would have been or how much time and money we would have wasted trying to get people to follow the rules, do their jobs right the first time, and keep our equipment running.
Food safety and personal safety are paramount in keeping a food plant running effectively. The degree to which our systems for safeguarding our products, our people, and our customers contribute significantly, or take away from, a food plant’s profitability. If you serve in a management capacity in a food plant you most likely know this – what you may be less aware of however is the degree to which the TapRooT® root cause analysis could help you reduce the costs of your safeguards, rework, and waste, while also increasing your equipment uptime. How do you find root causes? Should you be hungry for TapRooT®?
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“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates