Faults and problems can be frustrating and disruptive, but they can also be a valuable asset. In this article, we talk about how to perform an effective root cause analysis so that you can determine what’s really causing problems in your business. But first, let’s briefly get into what a root cause analysis is.

What is a Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a common and popular technique used to help people identify why a problem occurred in the first place. In other words, it emphasizes implementing solutions to the underlying problem instead of just treating symptoms for more efficient operations overall. The goal of a root cause analysis is to identify the source of the problem using a specific set of steps and relevant tools and techniques so that you can:

  • — Determine what happened
  • — Determine why it happened
  • — Determine a solution to reduce the chances of the problem reoccurring

Triggers for a root cause analysis fall into three broad categories:

  1. 1. Physical causes: this refers to tangible, real-world materials or equipment that fail in some way. For example, a TV stops working. 
  2. 2. Human causes: this refers to mistakes that people make or when they fail to complete required tasks. For example, an employee fails to perform regular maintenance of a piece of equipment, causing it to break down.
  3. 3. Organizational causes: this refers to a system, process or policy that people use to make decisions or do their work is faulty. For example, employees at a mechanic shop left a car unattended to because they assumed someone else was responsible for it.

5 Steps to Perform an Effective Root Cause Analysis

Organizations can perform root cause analyses for a wide range of reasons, from internet service disruptions to catastrophic equipment failures. Regardless of the nature or scope of the issue, here are five fundamental steps to perform an effective root cause analysis: 

5 Steps to Perform an Effective Root Cause Analysis
1. Define the problem

The first step to perform an effective root cause analysis is to define the problem. This means you need to clearly define and describe the issue that needs to be addressed. Without a clearly defined problem, it is impossible to correctly identify the root causes. Some questions to ask to help you define the problem include:

  • — What do you see happening?
  • — What are the specific symptoms (a sign or indication of a root cause, but it is not, by itself, a cause)?
2. Gather data

A critical step in performing an effective root cause analysis is the collection of relevant data about the problematic situation. This is because data collection is the foundation of the problem-solving process. The goal is to find accurate pieces of information that provides insights into the problem. For example, this can include collecting photographs and reviewing existing policies and procedures. To further ensure that you perform an effective root cause analysis, it is recommended that you gather everyone who understands the situation together. Some questions to ask during this step include:

  • — When did the problem start and how long has it existed?
  • — What are the symptoms of the problem?
  • — What proof do you have that the problem exists?
3. Identify possible casual factors

The third step requires you to brainstorm and identify as many potential causes or factors that could have contributed to the problem as possible. With a root cause analysis, you don’t want to just simply treat the most obvious causes — you want to dig deeper. This is where you can reference simple problem solving tools like the 5 Whys Analysis or Fishbone Diagram. It is important that everyone involved avoid attempts to determine root causes until every possibility is identified and evaluated. This is because by starting the root cause analysis process with preconceived notions, this may lead to bias results and make it more difficult to determine the real root cause.

4. Determine the root cause(s)

Now it is time to determine the root cause of the problem identified. However, it is important to note that there may be more than one root cause to the problem. In other words, put together an exhaustive list of possible causes and contributing factors. Think about why the casual factor exists and what is the real reason the problem occurred? After the team narrows the list of possibilities, rank the remaining potential root causes by their impact and the likelihood they are the root cause of the problem. Remember, the higher the impact, the greater its priority.

5. Find and implement solutions

The last step to performing an effective root cause analysis is for the team to start brainstorming solutions once they settle on the root cause(s) and lay out all the details of the problem. The solution should directly address the root cause(s), but you should also consider the logistics of executing the solution and any other potential obstacles that the team may face along the way.