Root Cause Analysis

by Kelly Feist, ANAB Accreditation Manager

Let’s discuss the definition and reasons for a root cause analysis. ASQ notes that root cause analysis is a collective term that describes a wide range of approaches, tools, and techniques used to uncover causes of problems. Root cause analysis can be used in a variety of situations, and not just to address findings from an assessment. These tools are used to get to the bottom of a visible problem, with the goal of permanently eliminating the issue.

Your annual assessment has been completed and the assessor asks for a root cause analysis to address some findings. You may scratch your head and say, “Where do I begin?”

  1. Begin by writing down the specific problem. This creates focus for the team.
  2. Next, ask why the problem happened and write down the answer.
  3. If this does not identify the root cause, ask why again and write down that answer.
  4. Continue asking why (suggest asking five times) until the team agrees that the root cause is identified.

While there are many different ways to address root cause analysis, this demonstrates that the 5-why approach is one of the easiest. Much like a child who keeps asking why, this technique helps the evaluator get to the root of the problem and helps determine the relationship between different root causes.

One of the most important aspects of the 5-why approach is that the last answer should point to a process. This is the real root cause and it should point to a process that is not working well or does not exist. By using these techniques, you should find that root cause analysis is an effective management tool and approach to solve day-to-day problems and to find ways to prevent them.

Root cause analysis may be conducted in many ways, including barrier analysis, change analysis, causal factor tree analysis, failure mode and effects analysis, fishbone or Ishikawa diagram, Pareto analysis, to name a few. Groups or teams of any size can use these techniques.