Thursday, July 8, 2010

Root Cause Analysis of the Washington Monument

There was a problem with erosion of the Washington Monument. The Monuments rate of erosion had increased. The initial cause was do to harsh chemicals used to clean off pigeon droppings. This being an important monument for America a study was conducted to solve this problem. This is the story I heard as recounted by Dr. Woods during her presentation at PSAM 10 in Seattle June 11,2010. I apologize if any of the story is mis-communicated and any mistakes are mine.

As the study began the first thing that was discovered was the rate of erosion increased after harsh cleaning chemicals began to be used. The analysts therefore concluded that the cleansers were the problem. The cleansers were being used to combat a problem related to pigeon poop. Yup, need to solve that problem. We cannot have one of our most powerful symbols covered in pigeon poop. Doesn’t say good things about us if we allowed that kind of mess. So, why were pigeons there? Well, it turns out that pigeons like spiders (probably like I like hamburgers (I know I have eaten more than I should have in the past) and spiders were now nesting in the Washington Monument? Well, Spiders like gnats and gnats were all over the Washington Monument and only recently. It turns out that gnats come out right at dusk and they are attracted to light. The Monument is bathed in light which were turned on the same time each day not accounting for the seasons. So the solution to the whole problem was to just turn the lights on later (well after dusk). No gnats therefore means no spiders and therefore no pigeons.

Now this solutions is fantastic. You are saving electricity (very small amount) and there is no need to use harsh cleansers. All in all an elegant solution to the problem. Of course, this is obvious after the fact, but how could this solution be enacted by a single person. This has to be done with a few people getting together at different levels to even see the problem. The cleaning crew isn’t going to know enough to solve this problem. The lightning person won’t know- even if there is a lightning person since the lights may have been automated.

My point is if something seems obvious after the fact- it isn’t. You see this “blame game” going on whenever you have an accident that seems obvious after the fact. When the details are effectively communicated the problem can be solved and solved quickly- only once all the factors are known. From the Titanic to now the British Petroleum oil spill- complex failures will have solutions, but only after the fact until we can our attitudes and focus. I still refuse to believe that BP is solely to blame. There are thousands of oil wells in the Gulf and around the world. The real problem was our human nature to underestimate risk.

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