Kepner-Tregoe Analytic Trouble Shooting, or ATS, sets out a process by which you can identify the root cause of a problem and come up with a solution. Many companies employ the method to correct process disruption in construction, manufacturing, assembly, electronic and electromechanical operations. In fact, NASA used ATS to save the Apollo 13 mission.

Assemble a team of five to eight shop floor or office staff members who have a common stake to the problem and are trained to apply the Kepner-Tregoe ATS. Assign a trained facilitator who has the most experience in the process and can guide the team's discussions.

State the problem in clear, unequivocal terms. Don’t use “motherhood” generalizations: Zero in on the condition that deviates from expected behavior in your operation. Concentrate on only one problem at a time. Pay no attention to problems beyond your control.

Prepare a five-row and five-column working spreadsheet. Use a white board or computer projection that team members can focus on as they contribute their thoughts.

Leave the first cell in the first row empty and label the succeeding cells in the first row with the following titles in succession: "Is"; "Is Not"; "Peculiarities/Differences"; and "Changes."

Populate the first column with the following question areas, one for each cell in succession: (1) What is the problem object or situation, and its unique quality or process. (2) Where the problem occurs in the system. (3) When the problem occurs, its frequency or specific times when it occurs. (4) The extent of the problem, percentage of error compared to the whole, and whether it is static or getting worse.

Answer in the second column the questions in the first column. Be specific.

Define in the third column the limits of the problem by answering the contra positive of each question area or each row.

Identify any condition that distinguishes the "is" from the "is not" columns and put the answers in the "Peculiarities/Difference" column. Indicate the condition that could have led from a normal to a problem condition in each of the question areas.

Identify the changes that led to the conditions in the "is" column based on the peculiarities or differences noted in the fourth column, and note them in the last column.

Infer from the facts in the "Is," "Is Not," "Peculiarities/Difference" and "Changes" columns to arrive at hypothetical causes. List them in a separate worksheet.

Test the hypothetical causes by asking the question: "If [cause A] comprises the root cause, can it explain the "is" and "is not" columns? Eliminate any causes that do not explain the "is" and "is not" columns; leave only the one that does and that clearly shows the most direct relationship to any of the situations you have indicated in the four columns.

Verify that the cause left is the root cause if it's a change in condition or an event that has directly led to the problem or caused the change to happen. Recommend as a team to conduct a test where the proposed solution can reverse the change or root cause of the problem.