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Root cause analysis is a structural and powerful methodology used to solve problems. It requires to look beyond the solution to the immediate problem and understand the fundamental causes of the situation in order to prevent the recurrence of the same incident, problem or non-conformity.

 

I am standing by the shore of a swiftly flowing river with a friend, and we hear the cry of a drowning child. We jump into the cold waters. We fight against the strong current and force our way to the struggling boy. I hold on hard and gradually pull him to shore. We lay him out on the bank to help him recover breath. Just when he begins to breathe normally, we hear other children cry for help. We jump again into the cold waters. We fight against the strong current, and swim forcefully to the struggling girl. We grab hold and gradually pull her to shore. We lift her out onto the bank beside the boy and help her recover. Just when she begins to breathe better, we hear another cry for help. We jump back into the cold waters. Fighting again against the strong current, we force our way to the struggling boy. We are getting tired, so with great effort we eventually pull him to shore. We lay him out on the bank and again help with recovery… suddenly my friend stands up and leaves (just as we are hearing another call for help)!

 I just can’t believe him! I shout at him “Are you leaving me here now, alone! DON’T YOU SEE MORE ENDANGERED CHILDREN ARE ON THEIR WAY? I need your help!”

He replies to me “Yes I see, that is why I am going UPSTREAM to get the BASTARD who is throwing them in!”

 

This is an adaptation of what is known as the Upstream Parable or alternatively the River Story. If you substitute the children in the parable for problems you clearly get the point of the story. We oftentimes are so busy trying to fix things that we don’t pay attention to how they are originating. Then we find ourselves overwhelmed by what’s on our plate.

If you want to solve your problems you must go upstream, identify the root cause, and tackle it there.

Root cause analysis is a structural and powerful methodology used to solve problems. It requires to look beyond the solution to the immediate problem and understand the fundamental causes of the situation in order to prevent the recurrence of the same incident, problem or non-conformity.

Organizations often respond to problems with short-term solutions and that is not the proper way to increase organizational growth. They need to look beneath the surface to the root cause of issues or problems; by this way they can formulate a preventative solution that should put an end to or mitigate the problem. By the way, organizations can avoid unnecessary costs resulting from business interruption, emergency, clean-up, increased audits, inspections and fines. Importantly, public trust can be earned which enhances business reputation.

Root Cause Analysis Process

 

Root cause analysis can be performed in five steps.

 

 

Step one:

Don’t rush this step. Team with people from various disciplines and functions to review different perspectives. Pay attention to BIAS. Be specific and clear to define the issue you have in hand.

 

Step two:

Understand the problem comprehensively. This is the step where you collect data to help you understand better the problem. Although it may be easier to gather qualitative data, make your best efforts also to get quantitative data that can be useful in the next steps.

 

Step three:

By now you have your problem clearly defined and you have gathered enough information. This means you should be able to identify causes that are leading to your problem.

 

Step four:

In this step you should review each of the causes identified and try to pin-point the root cause behind the issue or at least the one that is most impactful. This is where quantitative data is very useful.

Both on step 3 and 4 you may use the methods presented below.

 

Step five:

Now that you have your root cause(s), it is time to implement long term solutions/short term corrective actions. You may choose to combine a more short-term solution to quickly tackle the issue probably targeting the direct cause (correction) with long-term solutions that targets the root cause and preventing reoccurring (prevention).

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Methods

 

There is no single method of conducting root cause analysis, several tools and methods are used. The analysis must create a sequence of events to understand the relationship between the factors contributing to the problem, the root cause and the problem itself.

 

The “5 WHYs”

It Is the best known and the most used method. Used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying the problem. The investigator keeps asking the question “WHY?” until meaningful conclusions are reached.

 

Fishbone Diagrams

It is called also “cause and effect diagram”. It is the second commonly used method of root cause analysis. It is where a complex incident or problem needs to be considered in bite size pieces or when a huge quantity of data needs to be trended. The various causes, in the diagram, are grouped into categories such as equipment, materials or processes.

 

 

FMEA

FMEA stands for Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.  FMEA is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service. The use of this technique is known to have started in the 1940’s in the US military but it is also associated with the birth of the HACCP. At the time, when Pillsbury Company (Pillsbury was a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company that was one of the world’s largest producer’s of grain and other foodstuffs; founded 1869 and sold to General Mills in 2001) and NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration were developing food products to use into US space program, was recognized that FMEA principles could be adapted to assess hazards and control measures in food production.

There are two specific aspects of FMEA

  • Failure Mode: It involves identifying different ways, types (or modes) in which something can fail
  • Effects Analysis: It consists in analyzing the effects and consequences of each of the failure modes

The FMEA procedure can include up to 15 steps but in essence after identifying all the ways failure could happen, we should focus to identify all the consequences (effects) on the system, determine how serious the effects are and finally determine for each failure all potential root causes.

Conclusion

 

Adopting the Root Cause Analysis process is essential for any businesses to learn from errors/failures and develop robust prevention strategies which lead to continuous improvement for any business. The benefits of adopting the Root Cause Analysis process to prevent defects are enormous:  reduces development time and cost, increases customer satisfaction, reduces rework effort thereby decreases cost and improves the quality of the product.

 

On the other side, Root Cause Analysis takes time and effort. At the end of the day you must decide, either you keep on jumping into the cold water every time a problem arises or you go upstream and practice prevention before problems develop.

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This article was written with Hrabi Nouredine 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.

 

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