Monday, October 3, 2016

Analysis of Root Cause Analysis

“To stumble twice against the same stone is a proverbial disgrace.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero

The above statement teaches a very simple thing, that a mistake made more than once is a blunder. Yet we choose to make same mistakes over and over again instead of using a simple and very effective method of RCA. Repetition of the same problem is a very troublesome issue especially in the field of software engineering. In my view RCA is the only technique that can help you to identify the major issues that contribute to the toughest of the problems that you may be facing irrespective of the fact in which field you work may it be engineering, manufacturing or medicine. There is no other tool in my opinion as simple as RCA and effective too at the same time.

The ‘5-WHY’s’ and the ‘Ishikawa Diagram’ are the two most popular techniques to carry out RCA. They have been in usage for more than 25 years now but it was with the popularity of six sigma and lean manufacturing that RCA really came into vogue and got the necessary recognition that such a fine tool deserved. However, even though much has been written and discussed about RCA it is still not used intensively and is a much underutilized tool given its benefits and effectiveness.

The successful implementation of RCA is inhibited due to two reasons. The first one is the lack of organizational support in the form of work process and policies and the second is that individuals are not willing to carry out RCA. The latter is traceable to the former. If the organization does not support the RCA then it will be obviously opposed by the individuals within the organization. Although this may not always be true but the principles and policies of the organization do affect the way individuals may approach RCA. Sometimes the organization may support the RCA but individuals may run away from it due to certain organizational processes and policies. Unawareness in the organization as how to apply RCA strategically along with the lack of work culture that supports the usage of RCA discourages most of the professionals from using RCA. Most of the organizations train their professionals to carry out RCA but they do not really have any policies that will help in implementation of RCA.

Individuals working in the organization would agree that RCA is a great tool and must be used but they really don’t use it. The most of the organizations are task oriented and solving the problem immediately is given more emphasis rather than carrying out the process of RCA which may take more time than the immediate corrective measures. This is the reason why most of the professionals would say that they do not have time for RCA and leave it to be done at some later stage. Hence I will attribute the unwillingness of the individuals to carry out RCA to the organizational work cultures. Sometimes individuals do carry out the RCA in full force but when they report the corrective measures to the management, these measures are either rejected or accepted but not implemented. Such actions of the management discourage the individuals to carry out RCA in future.
There is a big misconception amongst the professionals within the organizations that to implement RCA successfully you need some new tools or different skill set. Once they undergo training for the RCA they are normally disappointed that it was not something radically different and can be easily learnt. They now attribute RCA to common sense but I do not view RCA as common sense. The reason why I cannot attribute RCA to common sense is that if the same problem is given to be analyzed by two different people with notably different ideas, perceptions, backgrounds and experience, they will definitely identify a different root cause for that problem. Hence RCA is not just common sense.

RCA if utilized to its full extent can really do wonders for any type of an organization as it helps in identifying the causes which if removed can permanently prevent the recurrence of the problem. The biggest advantage of RCA is that it really needs no software to do the analysis and reach to root causes. In fact the software’s that are available have the specific categories under which the causes are to be enlisted. I do not consider this to be a valid approach as it would limit the thought process of the individuals. And in some cases it would lead to the conflict as to whether a specific cause should be kept under which category as it may seem valid under more than one category. Some software’s allow categories to be added to the existing ones but using software normally inhibits the thinking process of the individuals carrying out RCA. In my opinion the RCA can yield the best results if carried out in a team. The reason for this is that a single individual may not be able to figure out all the factors that lead to a problem. This would happen because a single individual will have a limited knowledge of his own and may also bring in the bias. Having a team carrying out RCA will bring a greater level of knowledge and experience and the outcome will be more effective. For example if there is a problem in software, the system design analyst will tend to propose solutions based on the causes that may crop up due to design of the software. Similarly the developer will tend to identify the causes associated with the code. Thus having a team will help to identify all the causes and selection of the best cause as the root cause.


Root Cause Analysis is a very useful method to find out the underlying causes for the problems but to make it a success organizational support is very important. The best part of RCA is that it can be applied to almost everything that may be experiencing some problem. My opinion on RCA is that it should be extensively used especially in the field of software engineering. But its use is not limited to software engineering domain only. It can be very much successfully applied to other engineering domains, medical sciences, manufacturing processes, organizational issues and even to our daily life. The combination of “5-WHY’s” and “Ishikawa Diagram” give you a powerful yet easy to use tool for RCA. All that is needed is a pen, sheet of paper and an open mind to start with RCA.

Here are the links to RCA's IntroductionPhases and Techniques

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