How To Conduct A Root Cause Analysis

root cause analysis picture

What Is Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis is a step-by-step process for determining why a problem happened and developing solutions to address the issue. 

RCA believes that rather than treating symptoms, it is preferable to solve problems by determining what created the problem in the first place. 

Consider the problems we experience on a daily basis to have a better understanding of root cause analysis. If the main cause is not addressed, a trip to the hospital to treat malaria symptoms, for example, will not prevent the symptoms from recurring. However, if the root cause of malaria has been identified, such as a filthy environment or sleeping without mosquito nets in endemic areas, the disease can be readily prevented by sleeping in mosquito nets or keeping your environment clean, as the case may be.

Similarly, fixing the symptoms of an issue at work or in an organization can only solve the problem temporarily. Following a systematic approach or digging deep to uncover the base of a problem, on the other hand, tackles the problem at its source and prevents it from recurring.

The root cause analysis (RCA) is carried out utilizing a set of ideas, strategies, and methodologies for determining the root causes of an issue. 

The RCA is a widely used technique for identifying the underlying causes of a problem or the principal cause of a problem in organisations. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Root cause analysis is a problem-solving technique used by organisations to understand the series of events that led to the occurrence of an issue or problem.
  • The goal of a root cause analysis is to go beyond treating symptoms of a problem to treating the problem at the root to prevent it from reoccurring.
  • Root cause analysis employs techniques that include the 5why’s, fishbone diagram, Pareto analysis and change analysis to get to the root of problems.

Why Root Cause Analysis?

The business environment is a fast-paced one. Because of that, organisations constantly innovate their products and services. Root Cause Analysis is an integral part of conducting innovative processes. 

If companies want to be innovative and competitive in the business world, they must dig deep to find the source of any problem associated with producing or offering their products and services. The root cause analysis is one of the analytical methods used in investigating problems and their sources in organisations. 

The Process of Root Cause Analysis 

There are a number of techniques, tools and methodologies that can be used in carrying out root cause analysis. Whatever method is employed, the same goal is usually arrived at. The following steps are the process involved in conducting a root cause analysis. 

1. Define The Problem

Start with asking yourself about the exact problems you see that exist. Analyze what you notice and pinpoint the symptoms to create a problem statement. Questions often asked at this point are:

  • What evidence do you have that there is a problem? 
  • How often does it happen? 
  • What is the magnitude of the problem?

2. Collect Data

Data collecting aids in determining the source of the issue. It sheds light on the various factors that contribute to the situation. It also aids in the examination of all facets of the situation. 

To collect effective data, assemble the people who are familiar with the problem, such as experts and employees who operate in the affected areas. Working with them clarifies the issues for you. 

Developing case studies, accident analysis, and incident inquiry are a few examples of how to assess all aspects of a problem. 

 Questions asked at this stage include:

  • Which variables came together to cause the issue? 
  • What triggers the issue to arise? 
  • Are there other challenges that persist in the backdrop of the major real problems?

3. Identify Causal Factors 

At this point, you must seek as many causal factors as possible that contributed to the situation. Because one or two causal factors may not be enough to get to the root of the problem. You must look for as many as possible.  Questions to probe causal factors include:

  • What is the purpose of the causal factor? 
  • What caused the problem in the first place?

4. Determine The Root Cause

At this stage, the tools of Root Cause Analysis are employed to find the causal factors of the root cause.

5. Recommend and Implement Solutions 

You can now provide or recommend solutions after determining the fundamental cause of an issue. Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can prescribe a course of action to prevent the problem from recurring. Afterwards, you assign a schedule for implementation.


Methods And Techniques of Conducting Root Analysis 

The 5 Why Analysis 

This method involves asking the question of what caused a problem and then following each answer with another “why?” for 5 times or more. The goal is to get to the root of the cause.


Here is a simple example of solving the problem of a malfunctioning car using the 5whys method.

Root Cause Analysis. The 5 Whys

Cause And Effect/ Fishbone Diagram


Root Cause Analysis. Fish bone Diagram

The above fishbone diagram is a standardized categorization model called 5 Ms consisting of man, material, machine etc and 1E representing the environment showing potential causes of a problem in an organisation.

The fishbone diagram is a visual comparison to the 5 whys method. It is also known as the Ishikawa diagram developed by Dr Kaoru Ishikawa.

The fishbone diagram is a cause-and-effect diagram that is used to determine the causes of defects, problems, or failures in a process. The diagram mimics the skeleton of a fish.

In this method, the problem is being examined from the middle of the diagram. That is where the spine of the fish is located. Then the various causes are examined from the branches of the spine which are represented by the rib bones. The branches can have as many sub-branches as possible until the root of the problem is reached.

Pareto Analysis 

This method applies a statistical approach to solving problems. The Pareto analysis uses the principle of the 80/20 rule. This means that only 20% of the causes are responsible for 80% of the problems. It entails identifying a few key sources of issues that must be addressed in order to resolve the vast majority of issues.

To conduct an effective root cause analysis, ask questions to gain clarity. Asking questions will get you closer to the answers. Getting feedback from others can also provide new perspectives. Also, determine whether a particular strategy or method is best suited to your organisation’s needs.

Root cause analysis is a key problem-solving technique. It aids in the investigation of why an issue occurred from various perspectives as well as the development of long-term solutions.

Change Analysis 

This strategy is beneficial in situations where the number of possible causes for an issue is extremely vast. It investigates all modifications that occurred before the occurrence of the problem. For example, if a problem happened on a specific day, that day would not be the sole focus of the investigation. The issue will be investigated in the days or months running up to that day. That is, the issue will be looked at from a historical standpoint.


Summary of Root Cause Analysis

The Root Cause Analysis is a tool that is used in many professions from engineering to business analytics. If you want to get started on building your leadership skillset today, take our free course on Building Your Personal Annual Plan today!


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