Root Cause Analysis

Solving problems is the core of having success in business, or really, in any professional field. If you can successfully solve problems in a timely manner, you should be able to stay on track toward satisfactory outcomes.

Root Cause analysis and Problem Solving

Unfortunately, some problems are rather complex to unravel, which is why root causes analysis is so important. By employing this important concept when trying to solve problems, you can make efficient corrections to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.

Root Cause Analysis has been defined as:

“A method of problem solving that tries to identify the root causes of faults or problems. A root cause is a cause that once removed from the problem fault sequence, prevents the final undesirable event from recurring.”

“A powerful tool used to identify, record and visually represent the possible causes of a problem” Instead of problems and their effects appearing vast and insoluble, root cause analysis breaks down the problem into smaller, more easily handled chunks represented by a ‘fishbone’ diagram”.
Paul Wilson RCA (ASQC)

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Root cause analysis involves the following steps:

1. Define the Problem
Define the problem or describe the event to prevent in the future. Include the qualitative and quantitative attributes (properties) of the undesirable outcomes. Usually this includes specifying the natures, the magnitudes, the locations, and the timing of events. In some cases, “lowering the risks of reoccurrences” may be a reasonable target. Unless the problem is defined accurately, the whole process maybe prone to failure.

2. Understand the Problem
Check the information, obtaining real data regarding the problem, gaining a clear understanding of the issues. This is when the various tools and techniques, such as CATWOEFive WhysPareto AnalysisCause and Effect AnalysisGroup Brainstorming, and Flowcharts can be used.

3. Immediate Action
Implement temporary solutions to the problem. This is often necessary whilst the full root cause analysis takes place. For example, a broken part may need to be replaced in order to maintain production flow.

4. Corrective Action
Determine and prioritise the most probable underlying causes of the problem, as the temporary counter-measure may not resolve the root cause. Taking corrective actions to at least mitigate or preferably eliminate the causes.

5. Confirm the Solution
After the measures have been determined and implemented the success of the adopted approach needs to be established. Having confirmed the success of the suggested solution then rules or control methods need to be established that will avoid the problem ever happening again.

This root cause analysis template provides the key stages of a root cause analysis (RCA). Once the cause of a problem has been identified you then define the necessary follow-up actions required to address it.

Finding the End of the Chain

Some problems are solved quickly and easily, as the root cause is only one step away from the issue that has arisen. In this case, a thorough root cause analysis is not really necessary, as it is easy to see what it is that has caused the problem in the first place. Of course, this is not usually how it goes in the real world, as real-life problems tend to have complex root causes that can be many steps down the line. Those who are going to apply root cause analysis correctly are not going to just solve the immediate problem and hope it doesn’t come back – they are going to look deeper, finding the underlying cause and correcting it appropriately.

Root cause analysis should be a systemic process that is ingrained into the culture of an organization. Usually, it isn’t going to be possible for just one person to complete the entire RCA without assistance. Rather, there will frequently be many people (or teams) that come together in order to track down the actual cause of a negative outcome. When an entire group works together as one, it will be easier to trace the problem back to the root cause that needs to be addressed. The best organizations tend to be those who are adept at tracking down these root causes quickly and efficiently. If your organization is always fixing symptoms instead of getting down to the root of the matter, you will quickly fall behind the competition. Master root cause analysis and you should be able to take a step forward in your day to day operations.

Building the Sequence of Events

The concept of building out a sequence of events for any problem that you are facing is core to good root cause analysis. This is what takes your analysis beyond a simple cause-and effect point and moves it into a deeper mode where you can truly understand all of the variables at play. This idea is perhaps better illustrated with the use of an example.

RCA for Problem Solving

Imagine your company produces a product that is sold directly to consumers. This product is used around the house on an everyday basis, and it has a few moving parts. One of those parts is consistently breaking, and customers keep sending in requests for replacements. In an effort to please your customers and uphold your reputation, you continue to ship out replacement parts, at considerable cost. You need to stand behind your product, but you also know that these replacements are taking a serious toll on your bottom line.

So, rather than just continuing to replace the part, a root cause analysis would require you to dig deeper in an effort to figure out why the part is breaking in the first place. While doing your RCA, you realize that the materials used to create that specific part are sourced from a different supplier than the rest of your parts. As it turns out, the decision was made long ago to use this less-expensive supplier for materials to use in the manufacture of this specific part in an effort to save money. However, now that you are having to replace the part on a regular basis, the cost of shipping replacements is far outweighing the savings that are being experienced.

So, in the end, the obvious choice is to upgrade the supplier and eliminate the need to ship replacement parts. This conclusion would only be reached, however, by going through a root cause analysis process. If you were simply content to provide good customer service by sending out replacement parts, your company would have continued to lose money in the process. Investing some time and effort in root cause analysis can pay off in a big way when you are unable to uncover a mistake in your operations.

Meeting Resistance

There is a chance that the push for in-depth root cause analysis will be met with resistance by some in the organization. Why is that? Simple – root cause analysis has the potential to expose mistakes made by various managers and other employees along the way. Looking into the processes that are used to create a product or service will make it extremely clear where they are breakdowns within a business. Therefore, some employees who are not confident in their work will likely balk at the idea of using RCA on a regular basis. Of course, any employees who express resistance to this idea should be carefully monitored, as they are likely the weak points within the organization.

Root Cause Analysis Can Meet Resistance

The other reason for employees to resist the use of RCA is basic laziness. This is a highly-effective tool for improving your organization, but it is also a tool that requires some hard work to use effectively. Your entire team has to be willing to ‘buy in’ to the process of tracking down the underlying causes of problems that exist somewhere in the business. Without the commitment of everyone involved, this is a method of analysis that will fail to yield results.

Nearly every kind of organization can benefit from using root cause analysis on a regular basis. Continuing to fix problems on a superficial level will only get you so far – at some point, the underlying causes of those problems will need to be fixed if you are going to improve your operations and reach organizational goals. Implement root cause analysis throughout your company and watch for signs of improvement in both the short and long term.

You can read more about Root Cause Analysis in our free eBook ‘Problem Solving for Managers’. Download it now for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Root Cause Analysis is a method that is used to address a problem or non-conformance, in order to get to the ‘root cause’ of the problem.
  • Organizations often respond to problems with short-term solutions that require staff to repeat the same tasks over and over again without addressing the underlying problem.
  • If this is to be avoided then root cause analysis should be a systemic process that is ingrained into the culture of an organization.
  • Root cause analysis involves five steps: define the problem, understand the problem, take immediate action, take corrective action, confirm the solution.
  • The process is often met with resistance because it has the potential to expose mistakes made by people inside the organization.
  • Without the commitment of everyone involved, this is a method of analysis that will fail to yield results.

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