Root cause analysis – what’s it all about?
We all solve problems everyday. Getting the kids to school on time in the rain, negotiating a road closure or deciding what to wear. For these things we do not need a formal problem solving method we just do them. This is not the same as root cause analysis (RCA). RCA is about developing an understanding of why something happened, either why something failed or why there was a great improvement. RCA is about understanding our process so we can increase efficiencies or improve our processes so we can meet our objectives. For these types of issues we need a method. We need a method that can bring a team together to understand what went wrong and develop countermeasures to improve the process.
There are 3 ground rules that must be applied when commencing RCA.
- Always approach the problem with an open mind – if you already know the answer it is not a complex problem. RCA takes time, understanding the problem, gathering the data and arriving at the countermeasure. If you already know the answer it sounds more like you just need to make a decision and take some action.
- Don’t seek to blame but to understand – we are not on a witch hunt, we are not looking for who caused the problem but where did the process break down so the problem occurred. I firmly believe everyone does the best they can do, it is the processes we devise that let them down. So we need to find and fix the break in the process. If we start by blaming people we will never have all the correct data we need. Instead our time is better focused on developing a process map to remove any focus on individuals.
- Treat every failure as the best learning experience you could hope for. Problems are not something to hide from, they offer new learning insights into your process. By resolving a particular problem you are developing your people and learning great mastery of your processes.
With the right RCA method a team will quickly develop robust countermeasures and greater understanding of the process in which the problem occurs.
Do you have a problem solving method?