Construction Management Engineering

Root Cause Analysis


What is Root Cause Analysis (RCA)? 

-Root Cause Analysis is a method that is used to address a non-conformance or a problem, in order to get to the “root cause” of the problem. It’s used so we can eliminate or correct the cause, and prevent the problem from recurring. – It’s a tool for identifying prevention strategies. It’s a process that is part of the effort to build a culture of safety and move beyond the culture of blame. -Root Cause is the core failure or breakdown of a process which, when resolved, prevents a recurrence of the problem. -For a specific product problem, Root Cause is the factor that, when you fix it, the problem goes away and does not come back. -Root Cause Analysis is an approach to get to the true root causes of our process problems.

How to conduct Root Cause Analysis?

There are several tools available for conducting Root Cause Analysis process; Root Cause Analysis steps Define the problem

    • Ensure that you identify the problem & align with a customer need
    • If it is not existing, anticipate the problem from a customer perspective
    • What are the specific issues you observe
    • What happens if you don’t tackle the  problem now ( what is the business impact)

Collect data relating to the problem

  • Is there data to support the specific problem
  • Speak to employees or customers if possible, seek their voice
  • Is this problem recurring, how frequent in the past
  • What is the measurable impact of this problem on Key Customer Outcomes
  • Identify what is causing the problem:
    • Identify the underlying cause
    • What is the factor or combination thereof leading to this
    • Identify as many causes as possible, do not think of solutions at this stage
    • Involve your teams  and relevant stakeholders
    • Use 5Y or Fishbone analysis, more about  it later

Prioritize the causes

    • Don’t tackle all at once, prioritize
    • PICK matrix is a useful tool to achieve this
    • Bear in mind the impact and effort when you prioritize
    • Technology might be a key differentiator at this stage

Identify solutions to the underlying problem & implement the change

    • Focus is on eliminating the problem so it does not recur
    • Who will implement the change and by when
    • Who is responsible to monitor and control the new process
    • What is the method & frequency of reporting performance

Monitor and sustain

    • Defining a solution isn’t enough, execution is the key
    • Embed the new process within the existing business processes
    • Ensure the impact of the improvements are monitored and sustained

The process above defines at a simplistic level how Root Cause problem-solving blends into the operational excellence culture. The application may be different depending on the criticality of the problem.

Root Cause Analysis Methods

It’s a simple technique performed with the goal of understanding the cause of the problem. There are some root cause analysis tools in use.

1- Why Analysis

This technique is about asking “Why?” five times or more. The goal is to arrive at the underlying root cause of the problem. A simple problem of over speeding resolves by replacing the alarm clock. Or being more disciplined about changing the batteries. Now, replace this in a business scenario for a takeaway restaurant. A delay in food delivery might be due to traffic snarl. The underlying cause might be a faulty appliance in the kitchen. In either case, this root cause analysis tool is important since it focuses on the root cause of the problem. It seeks to eliminate the same so the problem doesn’t recur.  

2- Fishbone or Ishikawa Diagram

Ishikawa Diagram is named after Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa. Dr. Ishikawa created a simple method of displaying the causes of a problem. This diagram went on to be known as the Fishbone or Ishikawa or Cause & Effect Diagram. The steps to depicting cause and effect on a Fishbone diagram are:

  1. Define your problem
  2. Brainstorm with the project manager or team on possible causes for the problem
  3. Use the 6 Ms while doing so
    • Man: people performing the process or involved
    • Machine: equipment and tools used within the process
    • Method: procedures followed
    • Material: Inputs required within the process
    • Measurement: data on input or product specifications
    • Mother nature: the environment in which men and machines operate
  4. Categorize all the causes as per the 6Ms
  5. Prioritize basic data and team view. In the above diagram, the team believes the highlighted causes are the major contributory factors.
  6. Brainstorm solutions for the prioritized causes and implement

The Fishbone or Cause & Effect Diagram is a useful tool. It represents all possible causes & prompts the team to think from a 6M perspective. There are other variations to the 6M. Many manufacturing organizations use 4M (Man, Machine, Material, Method). While some service firms use 8P (Physical Evidence, People, Service, Place, Price, Promotion, Process, Productivity, and Quality).  

3- Pareto Analysis

Pareto analysis is based on the principle that “80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes” or  “20% of the work creates 80% of the results”. This is also called the “80/20” rule. When you start reviewing any problem, you would experience a tendency to move towards the trivial causes. Our energies need to focus on the “vital few” be it from a delivery perspective or problem-solving. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle. He named it after Vilfredo Pareto, he is an Italian economist. While at the University of Lausanne, Pareto noted the 80/20 connection. He showed us that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Steps to conduct a Pareto analysis:

  • Define classifications or categories for the causes
  • Collect data from historical sources or collect data through logs
  • Assign a time period for which the data pertains to or to be collected
  • Calculate the number of occurrences or observations for each of the categories
  • Convert the numbers into a percentage of total
  • Sort the data by numbers, largest to smallest
  • Compute cumulative percentages
  • Draw a graph using Microsoft Excel

4- Brainstorming

As an RCA tool, this is one of the simplest to understand; most difficult to apply. Brainstorming is getting all the concerned team members into a room. The goal is to understand possible causes to the problem. Focus on solutions only once the main causes are identified. The process steps are:

  • Champion Kick off, attended by process owner, project team, SMEs and Six Sigma team
  • Review the problem defined
  • Find all possible causes to the problem – hand post-its to attendees and request individual views (no discussions)
  • Use 6M to stimulate possible causes
  • Categories the causes using an Affinity diagram
  • Prioritize the causes, discuss and shortlist possible solutions via voting and group consensus
  • Review of shortlisted solutions by Champion for buy-in followed by next steps for subsequent research
  • List of the further course of action, Minutes of meeting distributed

Brainstorming can generate effective results. Recently, Brain-writing has evolved as a useful tool as well. It is a reformed version of Brainstorming. The focus is on individual viewpoints initially (at both causation and solution stage). Read more about root cause analysis from here

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