Understand what root cause analysis is, its importance, different types and methods, and how you can conduct it. Learn how you can organize root cause analysis training for your teams and improve your RCA processes.
Published 28 Apr 2022
The root cause analysis definition revolves around the process of identifying the source of a problem and looking for a solution in a way that the problem is treated at the root level. This way, organizations and professionals can look beyond the symptoms of the problem and work on where the real cause exists.
RCAs aim to gauge the challenges an organization should address to streamline its processes and achieve its goals. Hence, identifying the root causes of a problem helps in developing more effective strategies to overcome it.
Conducting a root cause analysis and implementing apt solutions help employers to significantly or completely prevent the same or similar issues and incidents from recurring. In this way, employers will help reduce the risk of death and/or injury to workers, the community, or environmental damage. Further, organizations can also avoid unnecessary costs due to business interruption, increased regulation, audits, and emergency response to name a few.
It’s also worth noting that when employers value prevention more than merely treating surface-level symptoms, public trust can be earned. Having an incident-free record may be more likely to attract and retain high-performing employees, further promoting a culture of safety.
Tracing back to the broader field of Total Quality Management (TQM), root cause analysis is part of a more general problem-solving process, and essentially plays an integral role in continuous improvement efforts. This methodology was developed by manufacturers in the 1950s with the goal to better understand industrial events.
There are 3 basic types of root causes that can have a potential impact on a problem, such as:
Root cause analysis is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. In fact, there are many various tools, processes, and techniques used in conducting it.
According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, most of the principles of RCA are classified into 5 major categories:
Root Cause Analysis Process
As shown in the diagram above, the root cause analysis steps are:
Going through each step in detail, here’s how you can perform root cause analysis.
The first goal of RCA is to identify problems or defects, which is best done by simply asking: “What’s the problem?” By being able to define the problem, the symptoms, and the possible outcomes, you’ll be pointed to the right direction on how the analysis should go.
This step is also crucial in crafting a specific problem statement. Without it, it might be difficult to find and create the best recommendations and solutions. When writing a problem statement, make sure to keep these 3 things in mind:
Retrieve all relevant and available data about the incident. Collect and investigate the documentation files, initial issues found, preliminary actions taken, personnel or teams involved, and other key information that you think would be beneficial to identify the root cause.
A causal factor, as defined by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, is a major unplanned contributor to a negative event or undesirable situation. If eliminated, causal factors would have either prevented the incident from happening or reduced its risks and frequency.
This is where the heart of your analysis enters the picture. Start this step by reconstructing a timeline of events in such a way that you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what led to the problem and other issues that coexist with the one you’re dealing with. This method is crucial for you to realize specific causal factors.
This is where you choose which of the root cause analysis tools you should use to discover the root causes of each causal factor you’ll encounter. Refer to the next section for the 5 best ways on how to do root cause analysis.
Upon identifying the root cause, you can now recommend preventive measures to ensure that the problem won’t happen again. Further, develop a comprehensive timeline and plan on how you can implement the solution in such a way that all of the stakeholders involved are well-informed and trained toward proactive quality management.
Ideally, a combination of various tools and techniques should be used to conduct root cause analysis in your organization. These tools are grouped under the following general categories:
As you look for root cause analysis techniques and root cause analysis examples, start by exploring these most commonly used ones and see if these are appropriate for the situation you’re aiming to address.
This is considered the simplest approach to RCA. Basically, this method employs only one step, being repeated over and over again. All you need to do is start with a problem statement and then ask “Why?” 5 times, with each “Why?” leading you closer to the root cause.
What is an example of root cause analysis using The 5 Whys?
Download a free 5 Whys template.
As one of the most in-depth root cause analysis methods, the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis or FMEA process uses hypothetical “What if?” questions to prompt an understanding of the problem at hand. This is best applied to establish cause-and-effect relationships that aim to describe why specific issues occur, including the one you’re dealing with.
Download a free FMEA template.
An acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, DMAIC is a data-driven strategy of an organization’s Six Sigma quality initiative that’s used in process improvement. It is composed of relatively straightforward steps, with each step aiming to ensure the best results possible. As a cyclical process, DMAIC includes the following steps:
Download a free DMAIC template.
Commonly known as 8D problem solving, this method is used in product and process improvement. Essential in implementing structural long-term solutions to prevent recurring problems, the 8D model is usually utilized by quality engineers and professionals involved in the automotive, healthcare, retail, finance, and manufacturing industries. Though this methodology originally has 8 stages or disciplines, it can be further refined by adding an additional step that is alloted for planning at the beginning. Hence, the 8D problem solving process looks like this:
Download a free 8D report template or check out this collection of 8D report templates.
This method is applicable to cases where significant changes took place in the performance of a system or a process. Its aim is to explore changes made in people, equipment, and data, among others, that have relevant impact to the change in performance. Ultimately, this also helps in discovering strategies in risk management.
You might find that this is the best option for your root cause analysis when you’re dealing with a large number of possible causes.
While various RCA tools can be used by a single person, it’s great to encourage the practice of collaboration and teamwork in an organization by asking teams to work together to find the root causes of their problems. This is why conducting root cause analysis training is advisable in your organization’s efforts to promote safety culture and a high standard of quality across sites and departments.
With mobile learning management systems or LMS like EdApp, you can create, test, and deploy mobile courses to ensure that your teams are in the loop and comply with your standards in process improvement.
Have your training converted into a modern format built for mobile workers. Try EdApp for free!
Find a good mix of solutions and tools you can utilize in conducting a root cause analysis based on the needs and goals of your organization. Once you’ve identified which methodology to use, streamline your RCA process by using a digital app like iAuditor by SafetyCulture. Apart from downloading free root cause analysis templates, you can also do the following:
Patricia Guevara is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. With her extensive content writing and copywriting experience, she creates high-quality content across a variety of relevant topics. She aims to promote workplace safety, operational excellence, and continuous improvement in her articles. She is passionate about communicating how technology can be used to streamline work processes, empowering companies to realize their business goals.
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