Effective Communication for RCA and Understanding Communication Style

Pauline Aloysius PMP

September 05, 2011

By- Edward Hodnett

"If you don't ask the right questions, you don't get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems."

One of the key values for a technical support and marketing team is its Customers whether it could be internal or external. For a technical support team which is not being in the frontline becomes more crucial in satisfying and meeting the demands of the internal customer who indirectly contribute in meeting the needs of external customers. The core concepts of customer satisfaction survey are to measure quality of solutions and timely communication provided by support team to the customers.

The purpose of this document is to emphasis the need of Effective Communication for Root Cause Analysis and Understanding Communication Style of individual and team. The whitepaper illustrates the 5-why RCA approach from Six Sigma DMAIC process and Johari Window model to understand the communication style.

How do we ask? How do we communicate?

The information and ideas exchanged flawlessly in both directions between the sender and the receiver. It becomes more effective with good preparation.

In this case shouldn’t we be prepared for effective communication for a flawless interaction?

Yes. According to PMBOK, Communications planning involves identifying the information and needs of the stakeholders. This includes determining what needs to be communicated, to whom, when, what method adopted and how frequency.

In a Technical Support team, a proactive communication approach is adopted by the team;

  • Identifying the Stakeholders (ex. Customer, Project Team, etc)
  • Collecting the requirements of the stakeholders (ex. Issues, problems reported in the call)
  • Mode of communication (E-mail, GIM, Telephone)
  • When, what and the frequency

The communications management is not a new topic in study of project management; the concept has been discussed in-depth in many books. The objective of this white paper is to briefly explain about outcome of Effective Communication for Root Cause Analysis and Understanding the Communication Style.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is achieved when the information is conveyed flawlessly and received without distortion. During a communication, each message is encoded by the sender and decoded by the receiver based on the receiver’s education, experience, language and culture. Many times the communication is not one-way. In this case it involves good communication and listening skills by the sender and the receiver.

Sender / Receive Parameters

From Sender

By Receiver

The sender should encode a message carefully, determining the communications method used to send it, and confirm that the message is understood correctly.

The receiver should decode a message carefully, and confirm the message is understood correctly.

Nonverbal: About 55 percent of all communications are non-verbal (ex. Based on physical mannerisms).

Active Listening: The receiver confirms she is listening, confirms agreement or asks for clarification.

Para lingual: Pitch and tone of voice also helps to convey a message.

Para lingual: Same as mentioned in "From Sender" column.

Feedback: Clarifying the message for instance, Do you understand what I have explained

Feedback: Clarifying the message for instance, I am not sure I understand, can you repeat what you have said?

Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

Technique is used in identifying the origin of the problem and also the underlying factors that causes the problem. It is one of the popular DMAIC problem-solving methodologies used widely in Six Sigma projects.
There are 5 stages of analyzing the root cause:

Step One: Define the Problem. It should be a problem statement describing clearly a single problem. Writing the issue helps you formalize the problem and describe it completely.

Step Two: Collect Data. The second level is to collect the factors that contributed to the problem. Ask why the problem happens and write the reasons for that problem.

Step Three: Identify Possible Causes. During this stage, we try to figure out what are the possible causes for this problem. There can be more than one cause for each reason.

Step Four: Identify the Root Cause. As we start looking at the root for each causal factor, the answer to one of the ‘why’ question to a cause would become the root cause.

Step Five: Recommend and Implement Solutions. Appropriate resolution or workaround is suggested to prevent the issue/problem from happening.

In a technical support Centre a detailed process of RCA is done, together with the internal customer, experts, front-line staff, R&D, technical and product marketing etc. To achieve the RCA process successfully we need to focus on the aspect of communication with different people to get the correct and appropriate feedback related to issues, occurrences, impact etc.

Communication for RCA

When a support center receives a request for technical support, it is at the receiving end. To understand the information correctly we have to demonstrate active listening and good questioning skills.

Active listening is more than just hearing the words or reading the message. It involves the power of observation as well as understanding the message which was conveyed, whereas Questioning techniques is to use right questions to gather correct information. Listening and questioning techniques are communication skills, when used actively could improve productivity and quality of relationship with others.

Here is an example of this approach; on how support Centre reacts when it receives a call or issue reported by customer? Do we jump in and start treating it? Or do we analyze and gather more information which may lead to the actual problem? Yes, when we receive support request we have to read between the lines and try to understand the complete message like, business impact, priority, criticality, customer tier etc.

To put it simply, support and SLA management consists mostly of gathering, organizing, analyzing, confirming and solving the issues. The ability to manage will only be as good as the information received to resolve it. When solving complex issues, before embarking into investigating the call, we need to ask clarifying questions and gather necessary information from the sender, handle it appropriately to determine the root cause.

Questioning Techniques

By using the right questions in a particular situation, the whole range of problem solving process could be improved. There are several types of questioning techniques which can be applied based on the situation and crafting the questions appropriately to improve the ability to communicate.

Questions are a powerful way of:

  • Learning
  • Relationship building
  • Managing and coaching
  • Avoiding misunderstandings
  • Diffusing a heated situation
  • Persuading people
Skillful questioning needs to be matched by careful listening so that we can understand what people really mean with their answers.

Listening Techniques

Active listening is the other component of communication; which means understanding and acknowledging what the sender is saying: both facts and feelings. It allows the listener and the speaker to relate, exchange information, and reach understanding. One of the critical aspects of active listening is that it's a conscious decision whether to listen or to do something else. Distractions caused either by noise in the environment such as: the speaker's use of language or the speaker's tone of delivery can reduce the listening capability. If active listening is not practiced, the questioning strategy will fail because salient points would be missed in the conversation or ignored in both verbal and nonverbal cues.

Key Points

Therefore to understand well about the problem; asking the right questions followed by active listening is at the heart of effective communications for root cause analysis. Moreover it also helps to:

  • Manage problems and issues more effectively, which improves productivity
  • Gather correct information and learn more
  • Follow up products and regions, and eventually build stronger relationships
  • Ability to influence, persuade and negotiate, and
  • Avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Concluding Part in next edition of “SYNERGY”