Understand what truly constitutes a Problem

Often, people use the word problem to indicate a wide range of issues needing their attention. Effective Root Cause Analysis requires you to:

  • Understand the difference between expected and actual performance
  • Assess whether both are being measured in a factual, consistent way
  • Be able to move to other actions or activities if cause is already known
  • Consider prior cause identification efforts so as to avoid wasting time

Describe the Problem

Create a clear and factual understanding of the problem to guide analysis.

  • Create a high-level statement of the problem for which you want to know the cause
  • Document a factual description of four critical dimensions of the problem: what, where, when, extent
  • Compare similar things that do not have the problem as a way to better understand the problem itself

Identify Possible Causes

Create hypothetical statements about cause that can be tested.

  • Engage with knowledgeable experts and leverage their experience
  • Use the comparison of things without the problem to find unique distinct features
  • Leverage these features to look for critical changes that could create the problem
  • Brainstorm hypothesis using all the information you have

Evaluate Possible Causes

Test hypotheses using structured information about the problem.

  • Methodically examine each hypothesis
  • Eliminate any hypothesis not clearly supported by known facts
  • Record all assumptions or questions
  • Separate most promising causes for additional verification

Confirm True (Root) Cause

Ensure confidence in the root cause before taking action to fix it.

  • Verify (or dispel) all assumptions
  • Identify methods for observing the cause at work
  • Design experiments to validate cause-and-effect
  • Plan monitoring to confirm that this is the root cause and that all effects are mitigated

Additional topics

Covered if time and learner interest are available.

  • Understand the use of complementary approaches like 5 Whys and Fishbone (Ishikawa) Diagrams 
  • Ask the right questions to uncover critical data required
  • Identify where else the root cause may be causing problems
  • Ensure that the fix does not create unintended problems
  • Learn how to use this process for many kinds of problems

 Download Root Cause Analysis Cause Outline

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