Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving that tries to identify the root causes of faults or problems that cause operating events.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a structured step by step technique that focuses on finding the real cause of a problem and dealing with that. Rather than merely dealing with its symptoms. Root Cause Analysis is a procedure for ascertaining and analyzing the causes of problems, to determine how these problems can be solved or be prevented from occurring. It is a process to help stakeholders to understand causes of a problem well enough to achieve permanent resolution of that problem.

RCA practice tries to solve problems by attempting to identify and correct the root causes of events, as opposed to simply addressing their symptoms. By focusing correction on root causes, problem recurrence can be prevented. RCFA (Root Cause Failure Analysis) recognizes that complete prevention of recurrence by one corrective action is not always possible.  Conversely, there may be several effective measures (methods) that address the root causes of a problem. Thus, RCA is often considered to be an iterative process, and is frequently viewed as a tool of continuous improvement.

RCA is typically used as a reactive method of identifying event(s) causes, revealing problems and solving them. Analysis is done after an event has occurred. Insights in RCA may make it useful as a preemptive method. In that event, RCA can be used to forecast or predict probable events even before they occur. While one follows the other, RCA is a completely separate process to Incident Management.

Usage of Root Cause Analysis

Most problematic situations which arise within organizations have multiple approaches to deal with them. These different approaches generally require different levels of resource expenditure to execute them. Because of the perceived immediacy which exists in most of these situations, there is a tendency to opt for the solution which is the most expedient in terms of quickly dealing with the situation. In doing this, the tendency is generally to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying fundamental problem that is actually responsible for the situation occurring (root cause). Yet, through choosing this expeditious approach to deal with the symptoms, the problematic situation may likely occur again, and must be dealt with over and over again. The costs of these quick solutions can be high over time.

The goal of a Root Cause Analysis is to find out:

  • What happened.
  • Why it happened.
  • What can be done to prevent the problem from happening again.

A root cause is one of the most basic, or fundamental causes of the situation (condition) with which we are concerned. Since the situation (condition) is usually affected by many things (physical conditions, human behavior, behavior of systems, or processes), several root causes will usually be found. Compare: Cause and Effect Diagram

Steps in Root Cause Analysis

The most common element of RCA method variants includes asking why today’s situation (condition) occurred. While the answers are recorded. And then asking why for each answer, again and again. RCA attempts to identify contributing factors and all causes. This allows you to proceed further, by asking why, until the desired goal of finding the “root” causes is reached.

Finding root causes will lead us to the next step: to evaluate the best method to change the root cause, so we can improve our current condition. That is another process, commonly known as: corrective and preventive action. While we are searching for root cause, we must remember to review each found cause and factor for correction as well, since this can also provide for great improvements.

While the terminology RCA is generic, in the sense that there exist many different variants of the methodology, it does indicate that some kind of structural methodology will be used on the problem.

Limitations of Root Cause Analysis

  • This method presupposes a single source of the problem. In reality, the situation may be more complex.
Business frameworks like Root Cause Analysis are invaluable to evaluating and analyzing various business problems. You can download business frameworks developed by management consultants and other business professionals at Flevy here.

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