Certainty Blog

A Comprehensive Guide to Root Cause Analysis

Have you ever wondered why, despite your best attempts to tackle them, some issues in your company just won’t go away? Have you ever experienced frustration due to the waste and inefficiency that arise from treating causes rather than symptoms? If so, you’re not the only one. Subpar performance and results are the result of many businesses’ inability to recognize and address the root causes of their issues.

Thankfully, there is an effective systematic approach that may assist you in solving any issue and coming up with long-term fixes. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a methodology for identifying and addressing the underlying causes of problems instead of only treating outward symptoms with band-aid solutions.

In this step-by-step guide, we will explore what Root Cause Analysis is, why it matters, and how to perform it effectively in five simple steps. We will also introduce you to a valuable tool that can help you improve your RCA processes and achieve better results.

What is a Root Cause Analysis?

A Root Cause Analysis is a structured approach to identifying and eliminating the fundamental causes of a problem. It involves asking a series of questions to dig deeper into the issue until the root cause is revealed. A root cause is a core factor that, if removed or changed, would prevent the problem from occurring or recurring.

Any kind of issue about productivity, quality, safety, customer happiness, or any other facet of organizational performance can be solved via a root cause analysis. Finding the best long-term solution to the issue is the aim of root cause analysis (RCA), as opposed to opting for a quick or short remedy.

Why Do Root Cause Analyses Matter?

Any company may gain a great deal by doing root cause analyses. Benefits of RCA include, among others:

Enhanced efficiency:

The amount of time, money, and resources needed to remedy mistakes, rework, and defects can be decreased by addressing the underlying causes of issues. Better productivity and output may be achieved by streamlining your workflows and procedures.

Risk mitigation:

Root causes of issues may be addressed to stop them from getting worse or from happening again, which lowers the risk of unfavorable outcomes including mishaps, injuries, legal action, or reputational harm. Additionally, by improving your adherence to rules and guidelines, you may stay out of trouble and save money.

Overall business success:

You may get a competitive edge in the market by increasing your quality, dependability, and customer happiness by resolving issues at their root. Additionally, you may encourage innovation and a culture of constant improvement to further the learning and development of your company.

5 Steps to Performing an Effective Root Cause Analysis

If you use the following five stages, conducting a root cause analysis may be a simple process:

1. Define the Problem

Brainstorming the issue that needs to be solved is the first stage in the RCA process. Setting the parameters and direction for all team members throughout the remainder of the investigation makes this essential. To identify the issue, you must:

  • Give a precise and quantifiable description of the issue, backed up by facts and evidence. For instance, you may state, “Our customer satisfaction rating dropped by 15% in the last quarter,” rather than, “Our customers are unhappy.”
  • Determine the problem’s effect and ramifications for your stakeholders as well as your company. Saying “This problem affects our revenue, reputation, and retention, as well as our customers’ loyalty and satisfaction,” as an example, would be appropriate.
  • Define the objectives and standards for the solution, together with the expected results and success criteria. You may state, for instance, “We want to improve the quality of our service and decrease the number of complaints to increase our customer satisfaction rating by 10% in the upcoming quarter.”

2. Determine the Factors that Caused the Problem

Finding the causes of the issue is the second stage in the Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process. These are the circumstances or things that made the problem happen or had an impact on it. To ascertain the variables, you must:

  • Gather and examine information on the issue from a variety of sources and techniques, including surveys, observations, documents, records, and interviews. To acquire a thorough understanding of the issue from an impartial standpoint, you should try to collect as much pertinent and trustworthy material as you can.
  • Using techniques like fault tree analysis, fishbone diagrams, cause and effect diagrams, and the 5 Whys, list and classify the contributing factors that impacted the issue. Aim to address every potential element, including people, processes, equipment, the environment, and other aspects from many angles and dimensions.

Looking for an effective way to jump right into determining factors that are leading to your pertinent problems? Check out our extensive free-to-download checklists to help get you started.

3. Identify Root Causes

Determining the problem’s primary cause is the third phase in the RCA process. This is the most important and difficult phase since it prioritizes extensive research and analytical thought. To determine the underlying possible cause, you must:

  • Test and verify the elements you’ve selected in the previous phase to confirm or refute their validity and relevance using data and proof. Eliminating irrelevant or insignificant aspects can help you concentrate on the ones that are most likely to be the potential causes.
  • Ask “Why?” and respond to it again until you identify the underlying cause. The ultimate root cause of a problem that, if eliminated or altered, would stop the issue from happening or from happening again should be your goal. Typically, a systematic or underlying issue—as opposed to a singular, isolated incident—is the fundamental cause.

4. Decide the Corrective Actions

Implement solutions that will properly address the issue comes next after determining its underlying cause. Because you must take into account the viability, effect, and sustainability of your suggested solutions, this phase calls for proactive decision-making and strategic thinking.

Some questions to guide you in this step are:

  • What are the potential remedies that might get rid of or lessen the underlying cause?
  • What are each solution’s benefits and drawbacks?
  • How are you going to apply the fix?
  • Who will be in charge of carrying it out?
  • What tools and assistance will you require?
  • How are you going to assess if the solution worked?

Creating a detailed action plan that specifies the responsibilities, duties, and deadlines for carrying out the corrective activities is the aim of this phase. Additionally, you should inform the pertinent parties about your proposal and seek their permission and input.

5. Review and Evaluate

Reviewing and assessing the success of your corrective actions is the last phase in the RCA process. This is a critical stage in making sure your remedies have produced the intended outcomes and stopped the issue from coming up again. Additionally, it enables you to spot any holes or problems that could occur during implementation and modify them as necessary.

Some questions to help you in this step are:

  • How well did the corrective actions address the root cause?
  • What were the outcomes and impacts of the corrective actions?
  • Did the corrective actions meet the expectations and objectives?
  • Were there any unintended consequences or side effects of the corrective actions?
  • What can you learn from the experience and improve for the future?

The goal of this step is to monitor and measure the performance of your corrective actions and compare them with the baseline data. You should also document your findings and share them with the relevant stakeholders. This will help you to close the loop and ensure continuous improvement.

What are the 5 Whys of Root Cause Analysis?

By asking “Why?” repeatedly until you identify the issue’s source, the 5 Whys technique is a problem-solving approach that can assist you in identifying the core cause of an issue. Created by Toyota Industries founder, Sakichi Toyoda, 5 Why is predicated on the notion that most issues have a complex web of underlying causes and consequences. The 5 Why technique involves the following steps:

  • Write down the specific problem that you want to solve.
  • Ask “Why?” the problem happens and write down the answer.
  • If the answer does not reveal the root cause of the problem, ask “Why?” again and write down the new answer.
  • Repeat this process until you reach the root cause of the problem, which should be a process that is not working well or does not exist.
  • Develop appropriate corrective actions to eliminate the root cause and prevent the problem from recurring.
A picture of Sakichi Toyota, found of Toyota Industries
Sakitchi Toyota, Found of Toyota Industries.
Image source: Toyota Industries

Improving Risk Management

As you can see, gathering, analyzing, and making decisions during a Root Cause Analysis is a methodical and precise procedure. For enterprise-level organizations that handle complicated and changing issues, this procedure can be difficult and time-consuming.

With Certainty, you may use any device, online or offline, to collect data while performing audits and inspections throughout your firm. Workflows, forms, and checklists that may be customized can help you gather accurate and pertinent data for your RCA. Additionally, real-time data and analytics are available to help you find patterns, trends, and the core causes of issues.

With Certainty, you can enhance your RCA process by:

  • Reducing human errors and data inconsistencies
  • Increasing metric accuracy and completeness
  • Simplifying data analysis techniques and visualization
  • Accelerating data-driven decision-making
  • Automating corrective action management
  • Improving accountability and compliance

To witness the advantages of Certainty’s effective solutions firsthand, schedule a demo today and discover how it may revolutionize your RCA procedure.

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