root-cause-analysis

What is a root cause analysis?

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.

total-quality-management
The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.

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.

Change analysis

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. 

Fishbone diagram

fishbone-diagram
The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus, it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.

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. 

Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)

failure-mode-and-effects-analysis
A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

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:

  1. Failure modes – the ways in which something may fail and the errors and defects (whether actual or potential) that may affect the customer, and
  2. Effects analysisthe 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.

The subsequent analysis, which may be qualitative or quantitative, was one of the first systematic and structured root cause analysis techniques.

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.

Key takeaways:

  • 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.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Cynefin Framework

cynefin-framework
The Cynefin Framework gives context to decision making and problem-solving by providing context and guiding an appropriate response. The five domains of the Cynefin Framework comprise obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic domains and disorder if a domain has not been determined at all.

SWOT Analysis

swot-analysis
A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

Personal SWOT Analysis

personal-swot-analysis
The SWOT analysis is commonly used as a strategic planning tool in business. However, it is also well suited for personal use in addressing a specific goal or problem. A personal SWOT analysis helps individuals identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Pareto Analysis

pareto-principle-pareto-analysis
The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

failure-mode-and-effects-analysis
A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Blindspot Analysis

blindspot-analysis
A Blindspot Analysis is a means of unearthing incorrect or outdated assumptions that can harm decision making in an organization. The term “blindspot analysis” was first coined by American economist Michael Porter. Porter argued that in business, outdated ideas or strategies had the potential to stifle modern ideas and prevent them from succeeding. Furthermore, decisions a business thought were made with care caused projects to fail because major factors had not been duly considered.

Comparable Company Analysis

comparable-company-analysis
A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

cost-benefit-analysis
A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Agile Business Analysis

agile-business-analysis
Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

SOAR Analysis

soar-analysis
A SOAR analysis is a technique that helps businesses at a strategic planning level to: Focus on what they are doing right. Determine which skills could be enhanced. Understand the desires and motivations of their stakeholders.

STEEPLE Analysis

steeple-analysis
The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Pestel Analysis

pestel-analysis
The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

DESTEP Analysis

destep-analysis
A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

Paired Comparison Analysis

paired-comparison-analysis
A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model

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