Root Cause Analysis (RCA)– Important Steps

Let’s look now at an important tool used in continuous improvement efforts. The tool is Root Cause Analysis (RCA). We will cover steps you can take when using this tool to help solve problems and resolve issues.

We should note that Root Cause Analysis is a way of finding a fundamental cause for a problem, not just a way to address a symptom. For example, imagine you are manufacturing plastic cups and scrap 100 of them in a day. A cause of this could be that the technician did not maintain the equipment properly. The root cause could be that the maintenance procedure is not clear and the training did not cover maintenance. To fix the problem properly you must maintain the equipment and improve the overall process of documentation and training.

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We should also note that Root Cause Analysis, when done properly, is an iterative process to help with continuous improvement in an organization. Root Cause Analysis can use approaches that depend on the application. These can be quality industrial applications, safety concerns, process concerns, business processes, and systems approaches.

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Every business process experiences problems with non-conforming parts, resulting in productivity loss or rework on expenses. Even with the best quality systems, training and protocols, problems can persist. The goal of a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is to get down to the true cause of the problem.

Root Cause Analysis is a comprehensive methodology encompassing a collection of problem-solving methods used to identify the real cause of a non-conformance. It’s a process of defining, understanding, and solving problems.

General principles

Here are some of the general best practices for Root Cause Analysis:

  • Make the aim of Root Cause Analysis to determine how to fix a particular problem and other related problems.
  • Use Root Cause Analysis in a systematic way.
  • Remember a problem can have more than one root cause.
  • Keep cost in mind when determining a fix to a problem.
  • Keep in mind a fix needs to be sustained.
  • Understand that Root Cause Analysis can cause a change to culture and resistance from those who will implement the change.

Steps When Using Root Cause Analysis:

  1. Define the problem
    Transform the pain point, known at project initiation, into an accurate and impartial description of the event. It charts everything, from outlining team discussions to planned resources for the project. The most critical purpose of this methodology is to clarify what the problem is and define its scope.
  2. Find Causes
    This step focuses on finding potential causes of the event in question. In this step, the goal should be to uncover as many causal reasons as possible. This pushes your team to dig into the issues that will help develop a deeper understanding of the problem.
  3. Find Root Cause
    This step uncovers the root cause that lies at the heart of the problem. Several tools can help us reach our goal. Below is a list of the most common tools that manufacturers use.
    • Five Whys
    • Histogram
    • Fault Tree
    • Scatter Chart
    • Cause & Event Tree
    • Pareto Analysis
  1. Find solutions
    It’s time to turn minds to the process of attempting to design a possible solution/s. Brainstorming is a very effective method for identifying potential solutions in a team environment. Common processes to this step are:
    • Common tools
    • Interviewing
    • Brainstorming
    • Benchmark
    • Flow Chart
    • Why Not Process
  1. Take action
    This step intends to implement the proposed solution that the team has created. Further, the team must take steps to ensure the sustainability of the change. Using an Impact Effort Matrix or Force Field Analysis may be helpful tools for this step.
  2. Assess solution effectiveness
    In this step, the effectiveness of the implemented solution is measured thoroughly. This requires the team to turn a critical and analytical eye on the solution to confirm that it has worked.

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Topics covered in our Root Cause Analysis Course:

      • Introductions & Opening Topics
      • RCA Basics
      • Describe Problem Assess Risks
      • RCA Team
      • Interim Action
      • Determine Cause
      • Identify Solution
      • Implement & Validate
      • Institutionalize
      • Report & Recognition
      • Closing Topics

Concepts Covered in our Root Cause Analysis Course:

1. Present State Scenario:

      • A problem is detected
      • Everyone sees pieces of the true picture
      • Many pieces could be assumptions, not facts
      • Each piece generates theories and supporting evidence is gathered
      • Each theory is consistent with its piece and so becomes “worth looking into”
      • This feels right because everyone’s doing something to solve the problem

 2. Present State Audit:

      • A fragmented picture and assumption-based theories drive problem-solving activities
      • No procedure for bringing all the pieces together
      • No procedure for separating assumptions from facts
      • No procedure for using the facts to find the cause

3. Future State “Lean Problem-Solving” Scenario:

      • A problem is detected
      • Everyone knows what facts to gather to see the whole picture
      • Facts and evidence are used as a filter to reject the theories that don’t explain the facts
      • Theories that explain the facts are worth looking into
      • This feels right because every theory that gets rejected is time and money saved
      • The filter is also a “theory generator” that leads us to the cause
      • A solution profile is developed for sustainable results

At the end of this course, the attendees will:

      • Know what to do when problems occur
      • Define, validate and decide if the problem should be solved
      • Use a team approach and understand team dynamics
      • Take appropriate interim actions
      • Choose the most appropriate Root Cause Analysis methods for the situation
      • Determine and implement the best sustainable solution

More guidelines

Remember that Root Cause Analysis is one of the basic tools you should use for continual improvement. Your goal using it is to understand an issue and what is causing it. You can then resolve the issue, not repeat the problem, and improve the process.

Here are some guidelines:

      • Use Root Cause Analysis as soon as you recognize a problem.
      • Do not wait until a problem becomes severe.
      • Use Root Cause Analysis in an iterative way.
      • Give priority to the problem that is most urgent.
      • Be precise.
      • Pick a problem that is solvable.
      • Use the 5 Whys technique.

When you implement a corrective action to communicate to all involved the:

      • reason for the action.
      • benefits of the action.
      • time needed to implement.

After implementing a solution remember to iterate.

Here are some related best practices:

      • Ask if the solution is effective.
      • Review the results of the action.
      • Modify the action as needed.
      • Recognize you may need a different approach if the problem continues.
      • Update procedures.

After you update procedures check that everyone is following the procedures. In time revisit the issue to make sure the fix is still working and everyone is following the procedures properly. Remember that training could be involved once you determine a resolution of a root cause problem.

Remember also that when you do a root cause analysis the next step is critical. You must have an effective corrective action plan and a preventive action plan too. Make sure your organization follows the plan, provides proper documentation, trains all involved, and continuously follows up on additional improvements to the process.

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