The Manager Tools podcast has a recent entry on The Five Whys which come out of the suite of tools from Toyota / Lean / Toyota Production System. It's a great root cause analysis tool, but the way the Manager Tools team describe it struck a chord with me.
I suspect many people are familiar with the idea in general: Keep asking "why" about a situation until you get to the root, rather than the surface symptom. As with the Thinking Processes from Theory of Constraints, the goal is to understand the system in which the problem occurred. The deeper reason behind, "Why did she do that?" has more to do with rules and measures, and these tend to come from the beliefs and values of an organization.
The thing I particularly liked about the discussion in the podcast was the "check." Once you've drilled into a situation, asking why until there is an "a ha" and something that can be corrected systemically, you check. The language looks something like, "Cause and therefore Effect." From their examples, it is things like "The CEO is concerned about how much we spend on payroll, therefore we offer pay at the low end of the market. Therefore, most of our offers are rejected." The beauty of working down through the Why's is that the surface problem of "our offers are at the low range of the market" has an easy solution: offer more. But if we understand why, it leads to a different understanding and a very different set of conversations.
The TOC Thinking Processes operate in a similar fashion. They build up the logic from the observations down to the root causes, and then use If-Then language to check from the bottom to the top.