Treating the Root Cause of the Problem

Written by lewsauder

April 29, 2013

root cause

Treating the Root Cause of the Problem

A colleague of mine recently went to the doctor a while back.  He was having some severe pain in his knees.  The doctor quietly analyzed the problem and then sat down with him and started talking to him about his diet.

He asked how many alcoholic drinks he had per day, what types of food he generally ate and asked if he knew how many calories he consumed each day on average.

My friend answered his questions gradually becoming confused.

“Why are you talking about my diet when the problem is my knees?” he asked.

The doctor explained that the knees are the most vulnerable joints in the body.  We don’t make it any easier on them when we become overweight and tax them more than they were designed to be.

My colleague wanted the doctor to prescribe a pain reliever or physical therapy or maybe some miracle treatment that would remove the pain in his knees.

Instead the doctor focused on what had caused the pain and prescribed something that would be much harder and take much longer to fix.  It wasn’t the answer my colleague was looking for.

Digging deeper to the root cause

As consultants, we advise clients who often think they know what they need.  Perhaps a client hires project management consultants to implement a new order entry software application that allows them to process orders faster.

That consulting firm could just follow orders.  They could present the client with a proposal for the software implementation.  If they win the proposal, they could do everything the client thinks needs to be done.

But what if that’s not the right solution?  What if the real issue had to do with their distribution process?  The consulting firm could implement the software system without the client seeing a significant increase in order processing speed.

We followed our marching orders

You can’t blame the consulting firm.  They did everything the client asked for. Or can you?

Should the consulting firm have refused to do what the client asked them to do? Maybe refused is too strong of a word.  But if the consultant wants to develop a long-term relationship with the client, they need to make sure they understand the issue, its root cause, and advise the client of the best way to treat the issue.

See my related post: Letting Knowledge Walk out the Door

It may not be what the client wants to hear.  And it may not be as easy as the client thought – and hoped – it would be.  But treating the symptom will often not cure the ailment.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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