coaching root cause analysis

By Jenn Turvey, Improvement Practitioner and Coach

A Demanding Process

Conducting root cause analysis is a demanding process for both the coach and the problem solver.

Typical steps include:

  • identifying the problem or issue to be analyzed
  • uncovering relevant facts and data
  • discovering who knows about the issue and can help analyze that information
  • once the cause(s) are uncovered, determining whether the analysis has delved deeply enough, or whether more analysis or more data is required

As they analyze and assess, the problem solver will discover this process demands some flexibility and endurance. They must be open to taking a step back to gather more data, or making a U-turn to another analysis approach. In general, they need to stay open to deeper exploration for as long as it takes.

And for the coach, it’s important to help the problem solver move forward and persevere in this thinking process. For that, some special techniques are necessary.

Coaching Root Cause Analysis

Two Techniques

To keep the problem solver on track, a coach will need an approach that is a touch more persuasive and encouraging.

This is the time for breakthrough thinking, and the coach’s task is to keep the problem solver on track and help them avoid the immediate inclination to become frustrated or substitute a quick fix for thorough analysis.

Two key techniques to support them in persevering are:

  • Opportunity questions
  • Challenging

Let’s look closer at each one:

Coaching Root Cause Analysis

Opportunity Questions

Also called ‘powerful questions’, opportunity questions are simple and direct inquiries which put a stop to confusion when a conversation goes off track or loses focus.

An opportunity question can:

  • Expand the terrain when the problem solver is limiting their thinking
  • Disrupt jumping to conclusions
  • Restart the action when someone is making excuses or giving up
  • Stop diversions down the wrong path

Asking an opportunity question interrupts the flow of the person’s thinking and helps them move to a different place. This can often be most effective during the middle steps of root cause analysis when more data is needed, and the investigation is generating more questions than answers.

When you ask an opportunity question, silence is likely to follow. It’s critical to give the person a few moments to reflect and respond.

Here are a few opportunity questions you might find useful:

  • What does that mean?
  • Where else could you look?
  • Who else could you talk to?
  • What else might be important here?

Sometimes, an opportunity question can be so disarmingly simple that it seems dumb. No need to over-engineer your question. The goal is to shake things up and get back on track.

Power Questions


We often think of challenging in terms of confronting, drawing a line in the sand, or holding your ground.

But in coaching, challenging means helping the problem solver move forward. A challenge opens possibilities, rather than stopping a person in their tracks. The goal is to make it possible for learning from mistakes, developing skills, and refueling the engine of inspiration.

A challenge can:

  • Nudge a person toward looking under a few more rocks
  • Point out inconsistencies or flaws in logic
  • Ask the problem solver to trust the process
  • Help them identify different perspectives

A challenge can move the problem solver forward. This can be useful during all of the steps of root cause analysis. But is most helpful when articulating the issue to be analyzed, and crafting the statement of fact that summarizes the findings of the investigation.

Here are a few challenge questions you might find useful:

  • What are you assuming?
  • Is that consistent with your problem statement?
  • Do you feel that step is complete?
  • What is the impact on the customer?

Not all challenges need a question mark. Here are a few challenge statements which can work just as well:

  • I’m noticing this assumes…
  • You mentioned earlier…
  • I wonder what the folks in customer service think…
  • This seems to be too easy…

A challenge can be especially useful when progress is slow and frustration is building. Pointing out inconsistencies, asking the person to dig deeper, or alerting them that equally relevant options exist can help resolve the situation.

Challenge Questions


Successful root cause analysis requires precisely defined issues and exhaustive analysis as well as persistence, digging deeper, and digging elsewhere.

Conducting one as part of a lean project can test a problem solver’s endurance.

Two techniques from the coach’s toolbox will come in handy to help move the process forward.

  • Asking an opportunity question can stop confusion and help get the conversation back on track.
  • A challenge can highlight areas requiring more analysis or a different angle.

In this way, the coach can guide and support the person in remaining inspired and staying alert to possibilities.

Coaching Root Cause Analysis

About Jenn Turvey

Jenn is a leadership coach, writer and instructional designer. She has her Lean and Six Sigma Green Belt, and previously worked as an improvement and operational planning practitioner for the State of Colorado. Jenn studied spiritual and religious experience in her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and considers herself a perpetual student of human development and personal growth.

She enjoys snowshoeing, eating, homebrewing, and drinking a good beer while reading a good book.

Jenn Turvey

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