Successful organizations follow the same general project management and leadership principles to ensure things are moving forward. The same goes for dealing with critical situations and solving problems. Good managers and skilled leaders must have the ability to differentiate the root cause from the various, consequently arising issues.

This important skill is the difference between solving a problem permanently and treating the symptoms. Identifying the underlying reason why an issue appeared can help you deal with it efficiently and prevent it from resurfacing again.

Understanding Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

Very often, we see many ‘symptoms’ and smaller problems related to one project. In reality, all of those problems can have a single underlying cause. One very effective approach to effective problem solving is Root Cause Analysis (RCA). RCA is one of the most widely used tools/techniques for detecting issues.

The power of Root Cause Analysis lies in its ability to analyze the situation and pinpoint the root of the problems – rather than treating the symptoms. This systematic approach focuses on identifying both, active problems and latent errors, which cause adverse situations and events. It focuses on identifying the main cause of the problem. Therefore, creates the possibility to eliminate the root cause/problem. But, keep in mind that RCA is not concerned with finding a solution. That is where Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) steps in. But we’ll discuss it in another post ?

RCA at Organizational Level

As mentioned before – Root Cause Analysis seeks to identify the root cause for any issue. Technically speaking, a root cause can be an aspect of the project or the organization which, when changed, can lead to a complete resolution of the main problem.

A good rule of the thumb is to conduct an RCA/RCCA at the beginning stages of a project. That can lead to tracking and eliminating existing and potential issues at the very beginning stages. While most Root Cause Analysis experts believe that one analysis can’t achieve total prevention of problems, it can significantly reduce development times (lead times) and costs.

RCS is an ongoing process that just like Kanban, strives for continuous improvement. But it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It was created to help companies analyze different activities, and as a result uses various tools, processes, and approaches. To perform efficient RCA, first, we must break down all processes and make sure they are not faulty. Then, look at individuals that might have caused the problem.

What is common for all approaches to Root Cause Analysis, is the specified protocol that starts with data collection, and continues with the reconstruction of the problem in question. The goal is to understand what happened and pinpoint the ‘how’ and ‘why’– the root cause.

Conducting an RCA is a time-consuming process. But the chance to mitigate or eliminate the root causes of several recurring problems and problem patterns is definitely worth the effort. Most commonly, we try to pin the blame to a person. But, the results show the undefined or missing process. And according to Dr. Edwards Deming’ philosophy, 94% of all business problems are management’s fault, since they control the processes.

Identifying a faulty process provides many improvement opportunities. That’s why you need an action plan. This plan should address the key steps and changes that you need to make. And define the people responsible for implementation, oversight, testing, and measuring the effectiveness of the corrective actions.

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Structured Approach to Root Cause Identification

RCA has a very structured approach. In order to conduct a successful root cause identification, you need to follow three main steps. Those include defining the problem, defining the reasons why the problem occurred, and defining the root cause itself.

  1. Define the problem. This is the easiest one. First, gather all the data you have about the problem – physical of digital records, information from people affected by it. Then, analyze all the input you gather and create a detailed definition and description of the problem.
  2. What are the reasons for the problem? Next, get a team of multidisciplinary experts to review the data and define the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the problem. Using the data you previously gathered, try to recreate the situation and events leading to the problem. That way, you can learn the reasons why it occurs. They may not be the same as root cause. But instead, obvious issues you already found or consequential reasons that stem from the root cause. List all of them.
  3. RCA identification. Now, you can move to the hardest part – identifying the root cause. Luckily, there are several tools to help you dig a little deeper and get to the root cause. Beware that this is a timely process. Some of the most popular RCA tools are fishbone diagrams, the 5 Whys, and Pareto Analysis. All of these tools are very helpful. Which one you use depends on the situation you are dealing with, and your preference.

Process Improvement through RCA

After you manage to identify the main reason behind your problems, the next step is taking corrective action. And in order to prevent the same problem from recurring, you need to turn this new behavior to a routine.

Make sure to document solutions in a dedicated RCA report. Having it nearby at all times will ensure you implement the corrective actions completely, and helps to remind everyone to stay on track. It will also help you monitor the solution’s efficiency in the long run.

Implementing the solution means change. And change must be carefully implemented and managed. Make gradual changes to the process to give people time to get used to the new situation. When team members notice that corrective measures really help, they will be happy to continue following the new course of action. And more importantly, will voluntarily participate in the next RCA.

RCA is an effective method for any team in any industry. It helps to systematically and deductively identify the source of problems. Then, you can take the most suitable corrective actions to eliminate the problem and improve the organizational flow. In combination with RCCA, it is a very efficient approach to preventing problems and smoothing out processes. Consequently, increasing the quality, reliability, and safety of products.

How do you and your team approach problem identification and problem-solving?

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