In this series of blogs we will explore the concept of ‘Root Cause Analysis’, its implementation and tools for its implementation.

Many of our clients have asked how we diagnose machines and problems we encounter out in the field. They are often looking for solutions they can implement internally to eliminate systemic issues and ‘red flag’ problem scenarios before they result in unwanted downtime or, even worse, catastrophic failure.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a systematic process for identifying ‘root causes’ of problems or event scenarios and an approach for responding to them. RCA is based on the basic idea that effective management requires more than merely ‘putting out fires’, but finding a way to prevent them.

At the heart of Root Cause Analysis is a methodology for finding and correcting the most important reasons for performance problems. It differs from troubleshooting, problem solving, and failure analysis; these disciplines typically seek solutions to specific difficulties, whereas RCA is directed at underlying issues.

▪ As a business process improvement tool, RCA seeks out unnecessary constraints as well as inadequate controls.
▪ In safety and risk management, it looks for both unrecognized hazards and broken or missing barriers.
▪ It helps create corrective action and preventive action plans at the points of most leverage.
▪ RCA can be an essential ingredient in pointing out valuable organizational and process change efforts.
▪ Finally, it is probably the only way to find the core issues contributing to your toughest problems.

Implementing RCA will help a company:
▪ Identify barriers and the causes of problems, so that permanent solutions can be found.
▪ Develop a logical approach to problem-solving, using data that already exists in the company.
▪ Identify current and future needs for organizational improvement.
▪ Establish repeatable, step-by-step processes, in which one process can confirm the results of another.

▪ Focusing on corrective measures of root causes is more effective than simply treating the symptoms of a problem or event.
▪ RCA is performed most effectively when accomplished through a systematic process with conclusions supported by evidence.
▪ There is usually more than one root cause for a problem or event.
▪ The focus of data gathering and analysis through problem identification is WHY the event occurred, and not who made the error.

Root cause analysis is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. There are many different tools, processes, and philosophies of accomplishing RCA. In fact, it was born out of a need to analyze various activities such as:
▪ Accident analysis and occupational safety and health
▪ Quality control
▪ Efficient business processes
▪ Engineering and maintenance failure analysis
▪ Various systems-based processes, including change management and risk management

Applying Root Cause Analysis
Examples of events where RCA is used to solve problems and provide preventive actions include:
▪ Major accidents
▪ Everyday incidents
▪ Minor near-misses
▪ Human errors
▪ Equipment Maintenance problems
▪ Productivity issues
▪ Manufacturing mistakes
▪ Environmental issues
▪ Risk analysis, risk mapping

Basic method to use
▪ Define the problem.
▪ Gather information, data and evidence.
▪ Identify all issues and events that contributed to the problem.
▪ Determine root causes.
▪ Identify recommendations for eliminating or mitigating the reoccurrence of problems or events.
▪ Implement the identified solutions.

RCA methods
The nature of Root Cause Analysis is to identify all and multiple contributing factors to a problem or event. This is most effectively accomplished through an analysis method. Through the new series of blogs we will be exploring some of those methods used in RCA including:

The “5-Whys” Analysis” — A simple problem-solving technique that helps users get to the root of the problem quickly. It was made popular in the 1970’s by the Toyota Production System. This strategy involves looking at a problem and asking “why” and “what caused this problem”. Often the answer to the first “why” prompts a second “why” and so on—providing the basis for the “5-why” analysis.

4M Method, also known as Fish-Bone Diagram or Ishikawa Diagram — Derived from the quality management process, it’s an analysis tool that provides a systematic way of looking at effects and the causes that create or contribute to those effects. Because of the function of the fishbone diagram, it may be referred to as a cause-and-effect diagram. The design of the diagram looks much like the skeleton of a fish—hence the designation “fishbone” diagram.

Pareto Analysis — A statistical technique in decision making that is used for analysis of selected and a limited number of tasks that produce significant overall effect. The premise is that 80% of problems are produced by a few critical causes (20%).

Value Stream Mapping – Value stream mapping helps companies avoid randomly making improvements by allowing them to identify and prioritize areas of improvement up front as well as to set measurable goals for improvement activities.