“Let's get to the root of the problem."
That’s the best way to approach the search for complex business solutions. Getting to the bottom of any issue is crucial, even if you can't put your finger on what's wrong in the beginning.
Firms often use log analysis software containing detailed information records to identify and analyze different circumstances that arise in the workplace. However, if you’re feeling lost, try a root cause analysis template to help you understand the situation and develop feasible answers to intricate problems.
What is root cause analysis?
Root cause analysis (RCA) refers to the variety of methods, instruments, and procedures used to determine the underlying causes of problems.
Certain RCA methodologies are focused and specific, and other RCA methodologies concentrate on generic strategies.
People often use an RCA to learn more about why a system performs differently from or outperforms similar methods. Most of the time, however, the attention is on specific issues, particularly when they involve critical systems. An RCA evaluates all contributing elements and connects events meaningfully to tackle problems and prevent them from occurring again. It’s only possible to figure out how, when, and why the issue happened by concentrating on the root cause rather than its surface indicators.
Why is a root cause analysis important?
RCA is exceptionally vital since it identifies core flaws in a product’s development process, allowing teams to take the proper corrective action to prevent troubles from happening in the future. As a result, the finished product has fewer flaws and needs less reworking.
For instance, adding more team members is an immediate fix if your business needs a better retention rate. But by using RCA, you may discover why team members are leaving your organization and apply that information to improve employee retention. Low retention rates might have one of the following root causes.
- Lack of professional development opportunities
- Poor benefits to team members
- Below-market-rate pay
- Low morale
A company can use research to identify one or more root causes after considering the possible reasons. You can’t find a lasting solution until you know the underlying issues. An RCA template uses a systematic approach to problem-solving rather than applying a bandage and praying for the best.
Objectives of root cause analysis
The primary objective of root cause analysis is to recognize core problems to eliminate them. Professionals may use the insights obtained through this approach to reassure employees and clients of a company’s dependability and reliability.
An RCA has three primary objectives:
- Determine the precise nature of the problem by looking beyond the symptoms to the actual course of events.
- Recognize the steps necessary for handling the situation or trying what has been learned.
- Apply the new information to similar underlying circumstances to prevent the problem from arising again.
Core principles of RCA
The fundamental RCA principles should be considered if you want to benefit from this method.
- The primary objective of RCA is to identify the root cause of a problem so that corrective measures may be taken to eradicate every underlying cause rather than just addressing symptoms of system defects. This investigatory step is significant and requires specific processes to guarantee success. Therefore, the RCA should be carried out with complete attention and in line with regulations.
- Defects don’t manifest from the ether. For every problem, there’s at least one root cause. Admittedly, locating it may be challenging, but you have to make the effort unless you want to keep “fixing” the same issues over and over again
- A complete analysis requires breaking down a series of events to comprehend better the link between the elements that contributed to the issue. This means you should worry less about who caused the error and focus primarily on why the defect happened.
That’s why symptoms are critical: they lead you to what’s wrong, but concentrating solely on surface issues is incorrect. Instead, look for practical solutions to the source of the problem.
Tip: Remember that it's common for a problem to have multiple root causes.
How to perform a root cause analysis
A variety of techniques determine the root sources in RCA. Below are some steps you can follow to help identify issues through the RCA process.
1. Defining the problem
To begin a root cause analysis, you must first characterize the problem in real-time. If you have several issues to fix, start with one and do numerous RCAs to find answers. Focusing on one issue at a time will give you a higher chance of swiftly determining and resolving the root cause of the problem.
Identifying your problem also entails ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
2. Collecting data
Data collection is necessary to illustrate the issue. You can use company research resources to comprehend the issue's signs and symptoms better. During this phase, you should inquire about the following:
- How long has the problem been present?
- Who is impacted because of this?
- What are the immediate and long-term effects of this issue?
- What are the main symptoms and indications of this problem?
- What definite evidence is there to suggest that there is a problem?
You can come up with plausible reasons for the problem after better understanding how it affects your business and network.
3. Identifying possible root causes
The most crucial step in the root cause analysis method is identifying potential root causes and drawing out a root cause analysis template. RCA templates help in better data visualization and a clearer understanding of your problem. A solution and action plan will ultimately emerge from the causes you identify in this stage. Popular root cause analysis templates for solving obstacles include Pareto charts, simple root cause analysis, cause-and-effect diagrams, 5 whys technique, and cause mapping.
4. Determine the root cause
You'll need to go through as many probable root causes as possible to find your problems underlying cause. If you've explored all possibilities, consider the following:
- Are there any commonalities between the primary reasons I've identified?
- Is there any reason to rule out these potential fundamental causes?
- Which underlying cause appears to be the most problematic?
You may use several root cause analysis methods for effective solutions. Among these strategies are:
- Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): FMEA is a tool that examines the potential root causes found and eliminates those most likely to lead to failure later on.
- Impact analysis: An impact analysis evaluates the positive and negative consequences of each potential uncovered root cause. Creating a hypothetical pro and con list for each reason will make you feel more confident in refining your decision.
- Change analysis: This type of analysis considers how the incident's immediate environment has changed over time, which may have directly contributed to the problem.
To get to the root cause of a trend, analysts often use alternative processes such as data discovery and data mining to create a root cause analysis report.
Professionals who want to focus on root cause analysis and continuously improve reliability should be able to choose the best approach for the situation. Streamlining an action plan with a single root cause analysis template is ideal, but often multiple strategies are needed in a report template to address a problem.
5. Implementing solutions
After you know the fundamental problems you've uncovered, it's time to locate answers and take action. Your solutions should target the actual cause, but as a consequence, they will work their way back up the chain and fix your original problem.
When you're ready to begin developing your implementation strategy, ensure it's streamlined and shared in a tool all stakeholders can access. Project management software lets your team interact easily and arrange deliveries as needed.
Types of root cause analysis templates
A root cause analysis template simplifies root cause analysis by allowing you to view your problem and its underlying causes in a graphical form. RCA can be done via various methods, each appropriate for different situations. Discussed below are the most common root cause analysis templates.
Simple root cause analysis
Simple RCA templates look at issues that don't need in-depth examination. You can use it to briefly describe the issue or problem, a list of probable causes, prospective solutions, and a conclusion as to whether or not those solutions were effective.
This flowchart separates the issue into symptoms, potential reasons, and natural causes to arrive at a logical solution. Cause-and-effect flow charts are often drawn via a structured fishbone or tree diagram. The fishbone diagram displays the problem or effect at the head or mouth of the fish, while a tree diagram branches out the list of root causes.
The 5 whys method
The 5 whys method may identify the underlying causes of issues. Ask "why" instead of accepting the case at face value until you recognize a procedure or system that isn't operating as it should. You might uncover hidden levels of problems by not settling for those initial solutions.
A 5 Whys root cause analysis template will usually include questions or prompts to help you uncover the underlying causes of the situation. A simple Five Whys root cause analysis template may look like this:
- What is the issue?
- Why did the problem take place?
- Why did the event in question 2 occur?
- Why did the event in question 3 occur?
- Why did the event in question 4 occur?
Because the approach is iterative, you may trace the problem back to its core cause and design effective ways to solve it by answering these questions. You may add questions or customize the template to fit specific problems and requirements.
Six sigma DMAIC
Six Sigma DMAIC is a way to minimize mistakes and improve business processes. It has its method of examining and examining fundamental causes. The abbreviation "DMAIC" alludes to the phases in this procedure:
Define and measure: What was anticipated, and what went wrong instead? What occurred, when, and where did it happen? What is the significance of the situation, and who was affected?
Analyze: Examines the cause-and-effect links between the components contributing to the problem. What caused the situation, and what must be done to prevent it from recurring?
Implement and control: What are viable solutions to the problem, and what are the causes and advantages of putting them in place? How can solutions be monitored and regulated to ensure that the problem does not reoccur?
This root cause analysis template guides you through each of the preceding processes and allows you to add information regarding the root cause action plan, resolution, and investigation team. Furthermore, this root cause template contains diagrams that may be used to depict how various contributing components (for example, people, processes, and equipment) link to one another and to the problem itself.
The cause mapping template combines the simple root cause analysis template, the Six Sigma DMAIC template, and the 5 Whys root cause analysis template. It contains a thorough issue summary, a timetable, an analysis of the "why" question, illustrations to clarify the process, sections for suggesting and assessing alternative solutions, and a section for developing an action plan.
Download a free root cause mapping template from Smartsheet.
Benefits of root cause analysis
RCA helps resolve persistent project problems and significant bottlenecks in corporate operations. Some of its beneficial business impacts are discussed below.
- Lowers costs: If a problem is discovered later in the development process, it is more expensive to fix, and if it is incorporated into the finished product, buyers may only buy it once, costing the company money.
- Identifies failure: It indicates that teams that believe they have adequate development and quality assurance methods but still find recurring problems benefit the most from RCA. It is evident that something is broken, but the questions of what, why, and where remain unanswered. RCA can uncover the actual cause of the problem, not just the apparent reason.
- Enhances safety and dependability: As root cause analysis aids in future defect reduction, it can primarily benefit businesses in sectors with strict quality standards where product reliability and safety are crucial.
- Improves workflow and time to market: By identifying the source of a problem and performing the appropriate action, a product may be tested more quickly and released to the market with fewer undiscovered flaws.
Challenges of root cause analysis
Some challenges that may be faced during the RCA process are discussed below.
- Poorly defined problems: When a problem is inadequately or wrongly stated, individual team members may have different perceptions of the problem, or the team may move in an entirely different direction to fix something that isn't a problem.
- Missing pieces of information: It is challenging to continuously observe every potential cause of a problem. This frequently results in biased identification and insufficient analysis.
- Ephemeral Infrastructure: Modern infrastructure has a minimal lifespan. As a result, performing a traditional query-based root cause investigation is becoming increasingly difficult.
Root cause analysis tools
Root cause analysis methods combine human inference with data collection and reporting tools. To conduct the RCA process, IT teams often turn to the platforms they already use, as they often contain data likely to provide deeper insights into the defined problem. These tools may include:
Many of these solutions have root cause analysis tools built directly into their platforms. In addition, some vendors offer tools that collect and correlate information from many platforms to help troubleshoot problems or failures. For example, automation tools with artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) capabilities can learn lessons from past occurrences and suggest future corrective actions.
Analysts should employ the techniques and resources most suitable to their specific set of circumstances while conducting an RCA.
Tips for performing effective RCA
- Brainstorm with a team to acquire fresh eyes to solve problems faster and to serve as a check against prejudice.
- Review your progress frequently and/or have someone outside your team undertake an informal audit of your development.
- Draw conclusions based on facts; ask yourself, "What evidence do we have that gives us the certainty that this is the right decision?"
- Prepare for future root cause analysis and determine what's best suited for your specific business demands.
- Remember to do root cause analysis for breakthroughs as well, to help prioritize and safeguard critical aspects of success.
Nip it in the bud
RCA may be used in practically every circumstance. Choosing how far to pursue your research involves sound reasoning and good judgment. It is also critical to plan ahead of time to forecast your solution's repercussions. This helps you identify potential problems before them happening.
RCA does not produce immediate solutions, but getting to the root cause of an issue nips it in the bud permanently.
If RCA methods have piqued your interest, explore how you can perform statistical analysis for scientific decision-making!