CAPA Corner

CAPA Corner: The Case of the Defunct TV

By Tom Weaver

A root cause investigation may be formal or informal. Things happen, at work, at home, anywhere. The investigation methodology remains the same. Only the level of documentation changes to fit the situation.

Several years ago after a long Monday on the road traveling to a client, I called my lovely bride to see how her day was going. Unfortunately it was not going well as I was greeted with the news that our television was not working! Now this television was only a month old. We had gone out one beautiful spring morning to purchase it and I had spent that gorgeous afternoon inside the house installing it in the entertainment center. I could feel the anger swelling inside me as I thought about the expense and the afternoon I had devoted to setting it up. 

Step 1: Define the performance problem

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, you do this every day!” I reached down into my computer bag and pulled out the trusty, laminated Investigation Roadmap. “OK,” I thought, “I need to understand the problem.” 

At this point I nearly made the lethal error of asking my beloved, “What specific object has the defect?” Sanity, however, miraculously intervened and I instead proceeded to ask the what questions in a much more conversational tone. 

She repeated that the TV was not working. When I inquired about describing that in more detail (the defect characteristics) I learned that when the TV was powered up, the screen remained blank and there was no sound. In my mind I starting constructing the IS / IS NOT Diagram. 





 Defective object: television   Any other appliance 
 Defect: Nothing happens when powering up the TV   Fire, explosion, smoke, etc. 
 Characteristics: blank screen, no sound   Distorted picture, unintelligible sound


I skipped the where questions and moved to the when as I perceived this would be much more critical. This information I acquired was also filed mentally. 


 Defect 1st seen: about 5:30 PM (half an hour ago when she had turned the TV on for the first time that day) 

 The evening before (the last time the TV had been used) 

My mind raced back to the what questions to think about what process(es) were under investigation. That I knew! With that afternoon I had spent installing the TV I had a very clear picture in my mind of how the TV was set up. 

Step 2: Collect data

This diagram is somewhat simplistic compared to the actual set-up but it does convey the essential information as I moved into gathering data. I knew the TV had one power input (from an electrical socket) and two signal inputs: 
  1. Television programming from a cable box; and 
  2. Recorded programming from the DVD player. 

I decided to experiment to better understand the defect itself. I asked my bride to play a DVD on the DVD player. “Tom, it works! There is both a picture and sound!” 

This was revealing. First, I now knew the TV worked. The signal from the DVD player provided both a vibrant picture and clear sound. Second, I recognized that there was nothing wrong with the DVD input. The second experiment followed as I asked her to switch to the television programming. 

“Tom, it’s back to a blank screen and no sound!” 

As I explained earlier I had spent a gorgeous spring afternoon inside the house installing the TV. The TV had a great picture and sound when operating in the DVD mode. I was still searching for a change, but the change was not in the TV or the DVD player. Both those devices were eliminated from the investigation. And since the TV worked fine, there was no issue with the power connection. The search area had become quite small. The investigation had quickly focused on the cable box. 

“Toni, is there power to the cable box?” 

 “Yes, the display is lit up and shows the time.” 

I now knew the change. If the power to the cable box is turned off, the display indicates the time. If the power is on, the display indicates the channel. “Toni, push the power button on the cable box.” 

“Tom, we have television reception! We have both a picture and sound!” 

Step 5

The technical route cause was obvious. When the TV had been turned off the night before, someone must have pushed the power button on the cable box and turned the power off. My wife and I never did that. We simply powered off the TV itself. However, one of our sons had spent the weekend with us and had been watching the TV when we had gone to bed. Bingo! He had powered off the cable box. That was the change I had been searching for. 

Technical Root Cause: Son had powered off the cable box. 

This was a simple investigation. I had not needed to do Step 3: Identify Possible Causes or Step 4: Test Possible Causes

But I wasn’t done yet as I was still in Step 5. It was time to pull out the 3-Legged-5-Why. First, was there a system failure?
Why had our son powered off the cable box?
This is how he always turns off a TV. 
Why does he always do it this way? 

Because we didn’t tell him to do it our way. 

Why didn’t we tell him to power off the TV the way we do? 

Because we didn’t think of it. 

Why didn’t we think of it? 


Systemic Root Cause (system failure): We (Mom and Dad) hadn’t thought to explain to our son how we shut down the TV. 

Second, was there a detection failure? Why hadn’t we discovered that the TV did not work? Actually, we did discover the problem the next time the TV was powered up! 

Systemic Root Cause (detection failure): There was none. We had discovered the problem at the earliest opportunity. 

Step 6: Determine Corrective / Preventive Action

Step 7: Verify Corrective / Preventive Action 

 Type of Root Cause   Root Cause    Corrective Action   Risk Mitigation    Control Plan    Acceptance Criteria    Actual Measures  
 Technical   Son had 
powered off 
the cable 
Pushed the 
button on 
the cable 
Accept Risk.  
If problem 
power up 
the cable 
 TV receives 
both picture 
and sound 
 TV did 
receive both 
picture and 
 Systemic   We hadn’t 
how to 
power off 
the TV 
In the future 
we would 
need to 
explain to 
guests how 
to power off 
the TV. 
Accept Risk.  
If problem 
power up 
the cable 
does not 
Problem has 
not recurred 
years later 

Again, this was a simple investigation and a problem that did not involve any risk. Our corrective actions were quite successful as we never again experienced this issue. (We did have an issue during that wild party a few months back, but that’s another story for another time.) 


As I said at the beginning, a root cause investigation may be formal or informal. Things happen at work, at home, anywhere. The investigation methodology remains the same. Only the level of documentation changes to fit the situation. In this very informal situation there was no tangible documentation. I simply made mental notes in my head. However, the investigation methodology had once again been reinforced, building confidence and honing my skill sets.

About The Author

Tom Weaver, President, Weaver Consulting