Best practice to an effective root cause analysis requires performing the following steps: definition of the problem, gathering data, identifying additional causes, identifying the root cause or causes, prioritizing the causes, and implementation of the solution.
The first step when performing root cause analysis is to analyze the existing situation. This is where the team identifies the factors that impact the problematic event. The outcome of this step is a statement that comprises the specific problem. A small team is tasked with the definition of the problem. This could be research staff who assesses and analyzes the situation. The question to be answered at this initial stage is: What is the problem?, How does the problem affect customer needs? etc.
A critical step in root cause analysis is the collection of relevant data about an incident or a problematic event. Documenting all the characteristics and specifications of the event will help you answer questions like What are the contributing factors? When did the problem occur? Is it a repeating event? What is the observed impact? etc.
Creating a sequence of events is important to identify causal factors that can contribute to the observed problem or event. The project team tasked with the analysis of the problem should establish a timeline of events and brainstorm as many potential causal factors as possible by asking “Why?” questions. Using a causal graph, for instance, helps to visually represent the connection between events and enables tracking of the root cause.
This is the time to identify as many causes as possible. The analysis team can use techniques such as the 5 Whys, Fishbone analysis, or Pareto chart to narrow down the potential underlying cause or causes of the problem and the major contributing factors. During this phase, stakeholders and other relevant teams should be involved.
Once the root causes are established, they need to be prioritized and tackled accordingly. To determine which cause or challenge to address first, the analysis team needs to assess what is the impact of the cause - the higher the impact, the greater its priority. Another point when prioritizing root causes is the number of causal factors triggered by a specific challenge - the greater the number of causal factors, the greater the impact of the root cause is and yields immediate addressing.
Next step upon establishing root causes and their prioritization is finding solutions to the problem and their implementation. Brainstorming is a great way to attempt and come up with a variety of potential solution scenarios. Another approach is interviewing as many people as possible. Gathering input as well as the implementation of the solution requires involvement from everyone. On one hand, every recommendation counts, and on the other, a successful implementation is the one that sticks with everyone affected.
Root cause analysis tools represent methods designed to help you conduct RCA and determine the underlying cause of an event or a problem. Some of the most widely used RCA tools and their utilization are explained below.
The Fishbone Diagram is a technique that helps to group multiple causes into various categories. By identifying such similarities between causes, you can easily navigate through the challenges, prioritize their impact, and ultimately determine the underlying cause of the problem. To use the fishbone diagram, the head of the fish needs to represent the problem, while the primary group causes are represented along the fishbone. You can also draw additional secondary causal factors along each primary cause.
The Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) is another root cause analysis tool that uses the boolean logic to determine a problem’s root cause. Through the visualization of the problem at the top of the chart and mapping all the affected subsystems in the form of branches, the tool establishes the relationships between a problematic event and its effect on other parts of a system. FTA uses deduction to determine root causes of events and it is helpful to identify system risks.
The 5 Whys analysis is a technique from the Lean toolset that helps to narrow down the root cause of a problem by simply asking why-questions. To arrive at the root cause of an event, you need to ask “Why” as many times as needed. Normally it takes no more than five times to identify a root cause. The evaluation method is very effective to determine how different root causes relate to one another and brings clarity into the chain of events.
Root cause analysis templates can be very helpful to establish the foundation of the process and streamline its progress.
Reporting RCA templates include key data such as the description of the event at fault, an established timeline of events leading to the event at fault, the team tasked with the analysis process as well as the RCA method that will be used to arrive at the root cause. The information can be laid out in any form you like.
RCA tools templates are useful to visualize the entire analysis process. RCA templates such as 5 Whys or Pareto chart templates can be easily created using a variety of programs such as Excel or other niche software solutions.
All the steps in a root cause analysis should be briefly and concisely documented in an RCA report upon the completion of the analysis. The information that needs to be listed on the report is listed below:
To determine the most effective way to find the root cause of a problem it is important that you diligently perform the first steps of the process. By asking the right questions and gathering critical details about the event, you’ll manage to determine the problem and its contributing factors. Based on that information, the most suitable root cause analysis approach will correspond to factors such as the number of causal factors identified and their diversity, how they relate to one another, do you need to apply deduction, etc.
RCA is a powerful approach to determine problems’ underlying causes and it allows companies to create stable work processes by preventing future occurrence of the same issue. The utilization of root cause analysis in a wide range of industries and sectors stems from its ability to solve problems and support an organizational culture of continuous improvement. Some of the industries where RCA is highly applicable are listed below.
Root cause analysis meetings allow teams and stakeholders to learn and improve. Through an in-depth analysis of a problem, its underlying cause, and additional causal factors, RCA meetings bring not only solutions to an existing problem, but also have preventive nature. Everyone involved in the problem should be involved in RCA meetings, team members, leaders, and stakeholders alike.
Phase 1: RCA meetings should be organized and led by leaders familiar with the specifics of the problem itself. It’s their role to clarify the meeting’s structure for all the attendees. They should also explain the goal of the meeting.
Phase 2: To navigate through the exact sequence of events, a timeline should be established explaining how the problem was detected, when, and who raised the alarm. The root cause analysis method employed should be announced.
Phase 3: During the next phase of the meeting, stakeholders and team members are involved in the discussion to list all the potential causes of the event considering their valuable insights and experience.
Phase 4: Upon listing potential causes, facts about the problem should be gathered to help narrow down the actual potential causes and eliminate the ones that fail to explain the event.
Phase 5: Once the root cause or causes are identified, everyone involved in the meeting should discuss the next logical steps to take to remedy the problem and prevent its further occurring.
Root cause analysis provides the means and tools to find and eliminate problems. Most importantly, the method supports problem-solving with optimal use of resources which greatly impacts the overall work efficiency. By targeting the root causes of problems, and tackling all causal factors, the technique allows organizations to be more effective, and to increase their work efficiency. The logical process of capturing the root cause of a problem, the preventive nature of RCA, and the supporting real data are some of the key advantages which make the analysis model so appealing and successful.
To perform an effective root causes analysis, there are six main steps that you need to do.
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