A Brief History of root cause analysis (RCA)
Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method for determining the root cause of a problem and eliminating it. The root cause analysis first originated in the field of engineering, and its invention is credited to Sakichi Toyota, founder of Toyota Industries. In order to make his company more efficient in handling assembly line disruptions, he came up with the five whys method, a question-based formula for identifying the root cause of a problem. In this way, the two terms are codependent and used in tandem with each other.
These topics are covered in this article:
What is a root cause analysis?
A root cause analysis checklist form is used by cross-functional teams of subject matter experts to create a good problem analysis, collect relevant data, identify the root cause, and implement solutions. Avoiding recurring problems confirms that actions recommended by root cause analysis can improve business processes or increase productivity.
A common mistake made during the analysis process is confusing the root cause with a problem’s effects. In other words, treating the symptoms instead of the disease.
For example, it’s easy enough to treat a headache with a glass of water and an aspirin, but that’s only treating the symptom of a greater underlying problem. If the reason for recurring headaches is a brain tumor, then the best course of action would be to see a doctor and get it removed. Failing to realize the root cause of the headaches will only make the underlying condition worsen over time. This could result in greater overall damage to the brain, make the tumor impossible to remove, or the cancerous cells could metastasize to other parts of the body, leaving treatment more painful and difficult than it would have been if the problem had been isolated at the beginning of the disease.
For this reason, early identification using a root cause analysis checklist is critical to the problem-solving process lest the issue cause irreversible damage.
What are the different RCA types?
It’s used to continuously improve business operations and is especially useful in the field of total quality management. From there, the analysis process was fine-tuned eventually evolving to include:
- Safety-inspired RCA:
It has been tweaked to be better adapted to all fields related to health and safety management. This includes healthcare, aviation, and nuclear industries—to name a few.
- Production-inspired RCA:
Was invented to ensure quality control. This technique is used to determine why issues arose during the manufacturing process and prevent defective products from hitting the shelves.
- Process-inspired RCA:
Goes hand-in-hand with production-based RCA to ensure that products are free from damage and defects. However, this method takes into account business processes in addition to manufacturing.
- Failure-inspired RCA:
Has its beginnings in engineering and maintenance where machine malfunctions occur on a day-to-day basis. In these industries, identifying the reason for stopped production needs to be done as soon as possible or risk impact to the bottom line.
- Systems-inspired RCA:
Combines a little of each of the other listed four and encompasses analysis concepts from fields like risk, systems, and change management.
What Are the 4 Root Cause Analysis Tools?
Determining the root causes of problematic business models requires a lot of precise work. There are various recognized methods for root cause analysis. Depending on the company, the methods should be checked individually for suitability for the company. One way to do this is by using a root cause analysis checklist. The following root cause analysis tools are examples of successful root cause analysis methods:
I. 8 Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D)
This method originates from the automotive industry. 8D is a comprehensive root cause analysis of crucial problems in the production process. The 8D approach is used in many industries, such as healthcare, retail, and manufacturing. With the help of an 8D checklist, you can define permanent corrective actions using collected data related to the problem.
II. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
The Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is used to anticipate certain problems before they occur so that negative effects can be minimized. For example, an FMEA checklist is used in product design to avoid costly production errors
III. 5 Whys Analysis
The very popular approach of the 5 Whys method is used for a wide range of problems, but especially when implementing Kaizen, the endeavor to continuously improve opperations. The method is simple. The question “Why did this problem occur?” is asked and answered five times. A 5 Whys analysis checklist documents this process in a clear manner.
IV. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control)
The DMAIC process deals comprehensively with the analysis phase of problem solving. As part of the Six Sigma method it deals with the implementation of long-term solutions. A digital DMAIC checklist helps you set performance targets in a clear and goal-oriented manner.
How to perform and conduct a root cause analysis checklist in 6 Steps
After covering the different types of RCA and tools you can use to get to the bottom of your problem, it’s time to start writing. Although that’s a task easier said than done, and that’s why below you’ll find a series of steps you can follow, complete with an example, to guide you through the process.
1. What Problems Need to be Solved?
When systematically solving problems, it is essential to analyze all tools, working materials, and methods:
- Which tools are used and when?
- How do work routines work?
The next step is to define the cause of the problem in order to thoroughly understand its scope. Here, facts and data should definitely be collected and documented in a root cause analysis form. This is the only way to determine what actions are necessary to solve the root cause of the problem. Also, make a priority list of your next steps.
In order to better understand this concept, the following example will center around conducting a root cause analysis on a hypothetical injury at work.
The problem that needs to be solved is how to reduce workplace injuries and accidents in the warehouse. This example will cover how John broke his leg.
2. Problem Description
Tackling and solving problems in a sustainable way is an ongoing process. Therefore, it is important that the entire process is documented in a structured way, and all information is recorded in a root cause analysis document. This includes problem description, visualization of problems, and comparisons between the individual vulnerabilities.
The collected facts based on answering a series of questions:
- What happened?
- Where did the accident occur?
- When did the accident occur?
- What systems were involved?
John Smith was carrying a heavy box to the loading bay at 2:30 pm on Saturday when he ran into an unguarded pulley, causing him to fall and break his leg. The incident occurred on the south side of the plant near loading bay C. His sight was obscured by the large box and reported he was only able to see out of his peripheral vision.
3. What are the causes of errors?
Now it is a matter of thinking about what causes the errors. To do this, there are two helpful techniques that can assist you in determining the cause of the errors.
- Structured techniques
- Fault tree analysis
- Ishikawa diagram
- Mind Mapping to illustrate root causes
- Generating failure images
In order to discover the root cause of the problem, it can be helpful to employ the Five Whys method — a question-based strategy where you ask yourself, “why?” a minimum of five times in order to unveil the underlying cause.
- Why did John Smith break his leg?
He broke his leg because he ran into an unguarded pulley that resulted in a fall. He did not see the pulley because he was carrying a large, cumbersome box at the time of the accident.
- Why was the pulley unguarded?
The pulley was left unguarded because it was broken and didn’t work.
- Why did no one take down the unguarded pulley if it was broken?
The employee who broke the pulley forgot to tell the maintenance team to take it down.
- Why did no one provide assistance?
There wasn’t enough personnel available to help.
- Why wasn’t there enough personnel available?
There was an increase in orders and deliveries on the day of the accident.
However, an additional line of questioning can be applied to why John Smith was carrying the load alone. If a box is large and cumbersome, the handbook states, “the job should be carried out as a two-person assist.”
4. Assessing Potential Root Causes
In this step you can now hypothesize the causes of errors. Make hypotheses and evaluate and compare them with each other. In this way, you can draw up a list of priorities in your root cause analysis form.
This step is dedicated to assessing which of the accident’s potential causes is the most likely culprit. Remember, there can be more than one, but this step is vital to crafting an appropriate action plan.
The site was extra busy around late afternoon on Nov. 5 due to a recent uptake in deliveries and orders the crew was rushing to fill. The pulley reportedly broke the day prior to the incident, and for that reason, was left unguarded—all factors that contributed to Smith’s fall and subsequent injury.
The root cause of this analysis would indicate a need for more personnel to work on days where the order and delivery amount is high, and for there to be a plan in place to increase interdisciplinary communication.
5. Action Plan
Using the list of priorities, you can draw up a plan of action for remedying the problem.
- The first step in the action plan is to remove the unguarded pulley from the loading bay
- Perform an audit of the rest of the building to guarantee no other unguarded equipment is present.
- Create a standard operating procedure for what to do in the case of broken equipment and retrain all personnel.
- Hire more employees and prioritize safety over speed.
6. Final Documentation
To prevent the recurrence of the errors and problems, it is important to document all steps accurately. Also record final considerations of effectiveness, duration of effectiveness, and incoming risks.
The last and final step is to verify if the solutions were effective. In time, this would reveal if the steps listed above prevented and reduced the number of accidents and injuries in the loading bay.
Digital streamline of a root cause analysis checklist
With digital root cause analysis templates, you can easily carry out systematic problem solving via tablet or smartphone – online or offline. Use the desktop software to create your checklists for the necessary steps and then evaluate the collected data. For example, you can directly see the weak points of specific methods or processes and initiate the necessary measures.
The mobile app and desktop software from Lumiform offer you further advantages. All responsible persons can access the RCA templates at any time and from any location. If problems occur and corrective measures need to be implemented, they can be informed immediately from the app.
In addition, clean, transparent documentation helps to prevent the recurrence of problems. The use of Lumiform offers many more advantages for your root cause analysis:
- The flexible form builder helps you turn any individual paper list into a digital root cause analysis template within minutes. Customize your root analysis template to generate reports that fulfill your business needs.
- In addition, we offer more than 12,000 ready-made templates to help companies get started digitally in no time.
- Using the super intuitive mobile app, you and your teammates can conduct root causes analysis anytime and anywhere.
- All results, images and comments are automatically bundled in a digital report.
- Find the cause for a problem or accident easier with the comprehensive analysis function of the desktop software.
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