Root Cause Analysis

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Root Cause Analysis - short version

Study of original reason for nonconformance with a process. When the root cause is removed or corrected, the nonconformance will be eliminated.

Root Cause Analysis - long version

Root Cause Analysis is any structured approach to identifying the factors that resulted in the nature, the magnitude, the location, and the timing of the harmful outcomes (consequences) of one or more past events in order to identify what behaviors, actions, inactions, or conditions need to be changed to prevent recurrence of similar harmful outcomes and to identify the lessons to be learned to promote the achievement of better consequences.

The practice of RCA is predicated on the belief that problems are best solved by attempting to address, correct or eliminate root causes, as opposed to merely addressing the immediately obvious symptoms. By directing corrective measures at root causes, it is more probable that problem recurrence will be prevented. However, it is recognized that complete prevention of recurrence by one corrective action is not always possible. Conversely, there may be several effective measures (methods) that address the root causes of a problem. Thus, RCA is often considered to be an iterative process, and is frequently viewed as a tool of continuous improvement.

RCA is typically used as a reactive method of identifying event(s) causes, revealing problems and solving them. Analysis is done after an event has occurred. Insights in RCA may make it useful as a pro-active method. In that event, RCA can be used to forecast or predict probable events even before they occur. While one follows the other, RCA is a completely separate process to Incident Management.

Root cause analysis is not a single, sharply defined methodology; there are many different tools, processes, and philosophies for performing RCA analysis. However, several very-broadly defined approaches or "schools" can be identified by their basic approach or field of origin: safety-based, production-based, process-based, failure-based, and systems-based.

* Safety-based RCA descends from the fields of accident analysis and occupational safety and health.

* Production-based RCA has its origins in the field of quality control for industrial manufacturing.

* Process-based RCA is basically a follow-on to production-based RCA, but with a scope that has been expanded to include business processes.

* Failure-based RCA is rooted in the practice of failure analysis as employed in engineering and maintenance.

* Systems-based RCA has emerged as an amalgamation of the preceding schools, along with ideas taken from fields such as change management, risk management, and systems analysis.

Despite the different approaches among the various schools of root cause analysis, there are some common principles. It is also possible to define several general processes for performing RCA.

General principles of root cause analysis

1. The primary aim of RCA is to identify the factors that resulted in the nature, the magnitude, the location, and the timing of the harmful outcomes (consequences) of one or more past events in order to identify what behaviors, actions, inactions, or conditions need to be changed to prevent recurrence of similar harmful outcomes and to identify the lessons to be learned to promote the achievement of better consequences. ("Success" is defined as the near-certain prevention of recurrence.)

2. To be effective, RCA must be performed systematically, usually as part of an investigation, with conclusions and root causes identified backed up by documented evidence. Usually a team effort is required.

3. There may be more than one root cause for an event or a problem, the difficult part is demonstrating the persistence and sustaining the effort required to develop them.

4. The purpose of identifying all solutions to a problem is to prevent recurrence at lowest cost in the simplest way. If there are alternatives that are equally effective, then the simplest or lowest cost approach is preferred.

5. Root causes identified depend on the way in which the problem or event is defined. Effective problem statements and event descriptions (as failures, for example) are helpful, or even required.

6. To be effective, the analysis should establish a sequence of events or timeline to understand the relationships between contributory (causal) factors, root cause(s) and the defined problem or event to prevent in the future.

7. Root cause analysis can help to transform a reactive culture (that reacts to problems) into a forward-looking culture that solves problems before they occur or escalate. More importantly, it reduces the frequency of problems occurring over time within the environment where the RCA process is used.

8. RCA is a threat to many cultures and environments. Threats to cultures often meet with resistance. There may be other forms of management support required to achieve RCA effectiveness and success. For example, a "non-punitory" policy towards problem identifiers may be required.

General process for performing and documenting an RCA-based Corrective Action

The root cause is secondary to the goal of prevention, but without knowing the root cause, we cannot determine what an effective corrective action for the defined problem will be.

1. Define the problem or describe the event factually. Include the qualitative and quantitative attributes (properties) of the harmful outcomes. This usually includes specifying the natures, the magnitudes, the locations, and the timings.

2. Gather data and evidence, classifying that along a timeline of events to the final failure or crisis. For every behavior, condition, action, and inaction specify in the "timeline" what should have been when it differs from the actual.

3. Ask "why" and identify the causes associated with each step in the sequence towards the defined problem or event. "Why" is taken to mean "What were the factors that directly resulted in the effect?"

4. Classify causes into causal factors that relate to an event in the sequence, and root causes, that if applied can be agreed to have interrupted that step of the sequence chain.

5. If there are multiple root causes, which is often the case, reveal those clearly for later optimum selection. identify all other harmful factors that have equal or better claim to be called "root causes."

6. Identify corrective action(s) that will with certainty prevent recurrence of each harmful effect, including outcomes and factors. Check that each corrective action would, if pre-implemented before the event, have reduced or prevented specific harmful effects.

7. Identify solutions that effective, prevent recurrence with reasonable certainty with consensus agreement of the group, are within your control, meet your goals and objectives and do not cause introduce other new, unforeseen problems.

8. Implement the recommended root cause correction(s).

9. Ensure effectiveness by observing the implemented recommendation solutions.

10. Other methodologies for problem solving and problem avoidance may be useful.

11. Identify and address the other instances of each harmful outcome and harmful factor.


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