In essence, a root cause analysis involves the identification of problem root causes to devise the most effective solutions. Note that the root cause is an underlying factor that sets the problem in motion or causes a particular situation such as non-conformance.
Understanding a root cause analysis
A root cause analysis (RCA) uncovers the root causes of a problem so that the most effective solutions can be devised.
Root cause analyses can be traced back to the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) where employees and organizations strive to improve their ability to create valuable products and services for the customer.
While TQM has since branched off in various directions, the root cause analysis remains a vital component of its continuous improvement philosophy.
Today, root cause analyses have broad applications and are used extensively in manufacturing, telecommunications, industrial process control, and IT.
RCAs are also used in medical diagnoses and in the transportation industry to analyze road, air, and rail accidents.
Root cause analysis methods
There are numerous tools and frameworks that a business can use to conduct a root cause analysis. Some of the most popular are listed here.
This a relatively simple technique based on the notion that change (or difference) can lead to deviations in performance.
The root cause of a problem can be found by comparing the deviated condition with the initial or baseline condition and determining what has changed.
In other words, any change identified becomes the prime candidate for causing the deviation itself.
To ensure the two situations are comparable, practitioners can compare the deviation to a task or operation that has been performed in the past.
They can also use a task or operation similar to the deviated situation or use a detailed task simulation model to reconstruct events if practicable.
The fishbone diagram, also known as the cause-and-effect or Ishikawa diagram, is considered one of the seven basic quality tools for process improvement.
The diagram can be used to structure a brainstorming session and is ideal for teams who have fallen into habitual ways of thinking and operating.
Essentially, the team first agrees on a problem statement and then brainstorms the major categories (causes) of the problem.
Individuals continue to question why a cause may occur as they construct an arrowed diagram similar in appearance to the shape of a fish.
Initially developed by the U.S. military in the 1950s, the FMEA is a step-by-step framework for identifying failures in a design, process, product, or service.
There are two primary components to the failure mode and effects analysis:
- Failure modes – the ways in which something may fail and the errors and defects (whether actual or potential) that may affect the customer, and
- Effects analysis – the study of the consequences of those failures.
Note that failure modes and their associated effects on the system are recorded in a specialized FMEA worksheet.
General principles of a root cause analysis
Despite the various approaches to performing a root cause analysis, most are governed by principles such as:
- Factor identification – what is the timing, location, nature, and magnitude of the negative outcome some factor is producing? This will dictate which actions, behaviors, or conditions need to be altered to prevent problem recurrence.
- Cost-effectiveness – root cause analyses strive to prevent problem recurrence in the simplest and most cost-effective means possible.
- Performance focus – removing the root cause of a problem to bolster performance is a more prudent choice than simply removing its symptoms.
- Evidence-based – successful root cause analyses are performed methodically using one of the tools we mentioned earlier. Conclusions and root cause claims must be supported by verifiable evidence.
- Multi-faceted problems – in most cases, there is more than one root cause to every problem. Treat the symptoms for short-term relief while multiple longer-term solutions are devised.
- A root cause analysis (RCA) uncovers the root causes of a problem so that the most effective solutions can be devised.
- The origin of root cause analyses can be traced back to Total Quality Management (TQM) where employees and organizations strive to improve their ability to create valuable products and services for the customer.
- Root cause analysis tools include the change analysis, fishbone diagram, and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA). Despite the various approaches to performing such an analysis, most are governed by common principles.
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