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solving problems in root cause analysis

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Root Cause Analysis: What It Is & How to Perform One

A hand stacking building blocks that read "root cause"

  • 07 Mar 2023

The problems that affect a company’s success don’t always result from not understanding how to solve them. In many cases, their root causes aren’t easily identified. That’s why root cause analysis is vital to organizational leadership .

According to research described in the Harvard Business Review , 85 percent of executives believe their organizations are bad at diagnosing problems, and 87 percent think that flaw carries significant costs. As a result, more businesses seek organizational leaders who avoid costly mistakes.

If you’re a leader who wants to problem-solve effectively, here’s an overview of root cause analysis and why it’s important in organizational leadership.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Root Cause Analysis?

According to the online course Organizational Leadership —taught by Harvard Business School professors Joshua Margolis and Anthony Mayo— root cause analysis is the process of articulating problems’ causes to suggest specific solutions.

“Leaders must perform as beacons,” Margolis says in the course. “Namely, scanning and analyzing the landscape around the organization and identifying current and emerging trends, pressures, threats, and opportunities.”

By working with others to understand a problem’s root cause, you can generate a solution. If you’re interested in performing a root cause analysis for your organization, here are eight steps you must take.

8 Essential Steps of an Organizational Root Cause Analysis

1. identify performance or opportunity gaps.

The first step in a root cause analysis is identifying the most important performance or opportunity gaps facing your team, department, or organization. Performance gaps are the ways in which your organization falls short or fails to deliver on its capabilities; opportunity gaps reflect something new or innovative it can do to create value.

Finding those gaps requires leveraging the “leader as beacon” form of leadership.

“Leaders are called upon to illuminate what's going on outside and around the organization,” Margolis says in Organizational Leadership , “identifying both challenges and opportunities and how they inform the organization's future direction.”

Without those insights, you can’t reap the benefits an effective root cause analysis can produce because external forces—including industry trends, competitors, and the economy—can affect your company’s long-term success.

2. Create an Organizational Challenge Statement

The next step is writing an organizational challenge statement explaining what the gap is and why it’s important. The statement should be three to four sentences and encapsulate the challenge’s essence.

It’s crucial to explain where your organization falls short, what problems that poses, and why it matters. Describe the gap and why you must urgently address it.

A critical responsibility is deciding which gap requires the most attention, then focusing your analysis on it. Concentrating on too many problems at once can dilute positive results.

To prioritize issues, consider which are the most time-sensitive and mission-critical, followed by which can make stakeholders happy.

3. Analyze Findings with Colleagues

It's essential to work with colleagues to gain different perspectives on a problem and its root causes. This involves understanding the problem, gathering information, and developing a comprehensive analysis.

While this can be challenging when you’re a new organizational leader, using the double helix of leadership —the coevolutionary process of executing organizational leadership's responsibilities while developing the capabilities to perform them—can help foster collaboration.

Research shows diverse ideas improve high-level decision-making, which is why you should connect with colleagues with different opinions and expertise to enhance your root cause analysis’s outcome.

4. Formulate Value-Creating Activities

Next, determine what your company must do to address your organizational challenge statement. Establish three to five value-creating activities for your team, department, or organization to close the performance or opportunity gap you’ve identified.

This requires communicating organizational direction —a clear and compelling path forward that ensures stakeholders know and work toward the same goal.

“Setting direction is typically a reciprocal process,” Margolis says in Organizational Leadership . “You don't sit down and decide your direction, nor do you input your analysis of the external context into a formula and solve for a direction. Rather, setting direction is a back-and-forth process; you move between the value you'd like to create for customers, employees, investors, and your grasp of the context.”

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5. Identify Necessary Behavior Changes

Once you’ve outlined activities that can provide value to your company, identify the behavior changes needed to address your organizational challenge statement.

“Your detective work throughout your root cause analysis exposes uncomfortable realities about employee competencies, organizational inefficiencies, departmental infighting, and unclear direction from leadership at multiple levels of the company,” Mayo says in Organizational Leadership .

Factors that can affect your company’s long-term success include:

  • Ineffective communication skills
  • Resistance to change
  • Problematic workplace stereotypes

Not all root cause analyses reveal behaviors that must be eliminated. Sometimes you can identify behaviors to enhance or foster internally, such as:

  • Collaboration
  • Innovative thinking
  • Creative problem-solving

6. Implement Behavior Changes

Although behaviors might be easy to pinpoint, putting them into practice can be challenging.

To ensure you implement the right changes, gauge whether they’ll have a positive or negative impact. According to Organizational Leadership , you should consider the following factors:

  • Motivation: Do the people at your organization have a personal desire for and commitment to change?
  • Competence: Do they have the skills and know-how to implement change effectively?
  • Coordination: Are they willing to work collaboratively to enact change?

Based on your answers, decide what behavior changes are plausible for your root cause analysis.

7. Map Root Causes

The next step in your analysis is mapping the root causes you’ve identified to the components of organizational alignment. Doing so helps you determine which components to adjust or change to implement employee behavior changes successfully.

Three root cause categories unrelated to behavior changes are:

  • Systems and structures: The formal organization component, including talent management, product development, and budget and accountability systems
  • People: Individuals’ profiles and the workforce’s overall composition, including employees’ skills, experience, values, and attitudes
  • Culture: The informal, intangible part of your organization, including the norms, values, attitudes, beliefs, preferences, common practices, and habits of its employees

8. Create an Action Plan

Using your findings from the previous steps, create an action plan for addressing your organizational problem’s root cause and consider your role in it.

To make the action plan achievable, ensure you:

  • Identify the problem’s root cause
  • Create measurable results
  • Ensure clear communication among your team

“One useful way to assess your potential impact on the challenge is to understand your locus of control,” Mayo says in Organizational Leadership , “or the extent to which you can personally drive the needed change or improvement.”

The best way to illustrate your control is by using three concentric circles: the innermost circle being full control of resources, the middle circle representing your ability to influence but not control, and the outermost circle alluding to shifts outside both your influence and control.

Consider these circles when implementing your action plan to ensure your goals don’t overreach.

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The Importance of Root Cause Analysis in Organizational Leadership

Root cause analysis is a critical organizational leadership skill for effectively addressing problems and driving change. It helps you understand shifting conditions around your company and confirm that your efforts are relevant and sustainable.

As a leader, you must not only effect change but understand why it’s needed. Taking an online course, such as Organizational Leadership , can enable you to gain that knowledge.

Using root cause analysis, you can identify the issues behind your organization’s problems, develop a plan to address them, and make impactful changes.

Are you preparing to transition to a new leadership role? Enroll in our online certificate course Organizational Leadership —one of our leadership and management courses —and learn how to perform an effective root cause analysis to ensure your company’s long-term success. To learn more about what it takes to be an effective leader, download our free leadership e-book .

solving problems in root cause analysis

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Better problem solving with root cause analysis (with template)

solving problems in root cause analysis

If you walk into your kitchen to find your favorite vase smashed on the floor, it might be safe to assume that the grinning cat nearby was the root cause of this problem. If only it was this simple in business and we could just say “the cat did it.” Product problems are often much more complex and connected to a variety of root causes.

Better Problem Solving With Root Cause Analysis (With Template)

If you think of a weed, the surface is only the problem you can immediately see. However, if you cut the weed from the ground level, it’s likely to grow back from the root. This is just like fixing product problems with a band-aid with little to no investigation of a root cause — it’s likely to return.

These types of problems need a more thorough root cause analysis (RCA) to determine how, and why the problem happened, and how to prevent it in the future.

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis is a tool you can utilize when determining the true cause of a problem. You might have assumptions about what the cause of a problem might be or experience biases towards one as the main cause.

Performing a root cause analysis can help you determine what the underlying causes of a problem are to help address a more impactful and valuable solution:

Root Cause Analysis Graphic

What are the 4 steps in a root cause analysis?

When you’re trying to uncover the roots of a problem, it can be daunting to figure out where to start. The process to conduct a root cause analysis can be broken down into a few easy steps:

  • Define the problem
  • Identify and map the problem causes
  • Identify the evidence that supports your causes
  • Create a root cause analysis report and set up your action plan

1. Define the problem

A clear definition of the problem is the first step. Sometimes problems are easy to identify, like a broken link. More often, problems can be abstract and need clarification, like a decrease in overall purchases through a site or an increase in bugs reported.

Here are some more examples of problems:

  • A 20 percent drop in customer purchases placed from the shopping cart page from the previous week
  • 60 percent of customers on hold end up dropping their call and, as a result, the company has experienced a decrease in NPS scores
  • A 40 percent increase of customer reported issues with using the folders feature in a CRM
  • A 15 percent decrease in user engagement with a core feature on a social media site

It’s also critical to understand how to define a problem:

2. Identify and map the problem causes

Using tools like a fishbone analysis and the Five Whys framework can help you put together causes and start to categorize themes of the problem. When going through a Five Whys diagram, try to come up with a few alternate pathways and you might notice overlapping areas.

Each example of a Five Whys diagram is accurate, but only looking at one cause can prevent you from understanding the fuller picture. For example, there was more than one reason why the Fyre Festival failed and it’s important to identify overlapping themes to avoid leaning on only one cause:

Fyre Festival Root Cause Analysis Example

In a product example, there might be numerous reasons why session times have decreased, or user reported bugs are up.

After evaluating the size, impact, general cause themes, and urgency of the problem, you’ll have a better understanding of how much effort will be needed for the analysis. The larger the problem on the surface, the more underlying causes you might find. Even simple problems can sometimes have numerous causes to consider and you need to determine how in-depth you need to dig to “unroot” the causes.

It’s also critical to check all your bases. Once you have evaluated and categorized the different potential causes to a problem, use the following as a checklist to ensure you’re covering all areas of where and how this problem happened. Be sure to identify any changes or recent events that might have occurred that could have impacted the problem.

solving problems in root cause analysis

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solving problems in root cause analysis

  • Demographics : is the problem happening to one specific demographic? Only happening to iPhone users? Users in a specific location?
  • Time specific : when did the problem happen? Is it continuing to happen? Did the problem only occur during a specific time? You might discover that the problem is related to a time-specific cause, like a release or outage
  • User journey : did anything change within the user journey? Map the workflow to determine if any new developments have occurred
  • External factors : is this an issue with a third party integration? Did a competitor launch a successful new feature that might be taking business from you? Some of these external factors could be out of your control, but important to recognize
  • Internal factors : how many feature releases happened during this time frame? Was there any product downtime or maintenance at that time?

3. Identify the evidence that supports your causes

Collecting evidence is a key part of a root cause analysis. Without evidence, your problem causes are based on assumptions and potentially harmful biases.

Start evaluating any data you might have available. Using session replay tools like LogRocket can help you collect evidence of the problem. Here are a couple of examples of the type of data that can be used to collect evidence:

  • User count — number of users impacted by the problem
  • Usage — daily, weekly, or monthly active users and a decrease or increase in session time
  • Decrease or increase in events — for example, a decrease in users selecting the Add to cart button from a page or an increase in error pages
  • Error tracking and user frustration — tools like LogRocket can help track where things are going wrong in your product and surface critical issues
  • Qualitative evidence — run user interviews or user-submitted feedback with tools like Loom. Are multiple users running into the same roadblock? Are you seeing the same complaint from multiple users in feedback tickets?

4. Create a root cause analysis report and set up your action plan

Collect your evidence and root cause evaluation into an RCA template. Once you have your causes identified and your discovery efforts into one root cause analysis report, you can start creating a plan to address the problem and prevent it from happening in the future.

Collaborate with a team to brainstorm solutions and discuss which options might address multiple causes. Evaluate if you need both a short-term and long-term solution, depending on the level of effort and urgency required. As part of your analysis report, discuss how you can avoid this problem again in the future and any other risk mitigation plans.

Root cause analysis template

You can use this root cause analysis template on Google Sheets to organization your investigation, collect your evidence, and share with your team to determine next step solutions:

Blank Prep Root Cause Analysis Example Screenshot

Root cause analysis example

Below is an RCA for Company B, a tax preparation product that experienced an increase in dropped customer calls.

Company B experienced an increase of 60 percent of customers on hold that ended up dropping their call. They also experienced an increase in NPS dissatisfaction and have concerns about losing customers.

After going through a root cause analysis, they discovered an 80 percent increase in user calls during tax season. This increase of call volume indicated much longer wait times to speak to a live agent.

After investigating some of the customer call reasons, they discovered that numerous customers had simple questions that could be answered quickly without too much support.

More great articles from LogRocket:

  • How to implement issue management to improve your product
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  • What is a PERT chart and how to make one
  • Discover how to use behavioral analytics to create a great product experience
  • Explore six tried and true product management frameworks you should know
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Company B gathered call logs that confirmed their suspicions. They brought the logs together that demonstrated the simplicity of repeated questions and gathered records of customers that dropped off after a certain amount of time on the phone.

Company B implemented a conversational AI chatbot that could answer generic questions and direct more complex questions to a live agent. Further, they implemented tooltips throughout the tax process flow to help users that appeared to be stuck.

Through the RCA process, you might discover that some parts of the user’s experience are confusing and create a plan to address minor UI challenges.

These solutions helped Company B improve their accessibility and scalability needs during an increase in call volume, without having to add more employee support. Going forward, Company B can plan to monitor call times and continuously evaluate customer service topics to determine where users might need further support and guidance in the future:

Tax Prep Root Cause Analysis Example

Common mistakes to avoid

There are a number of easy-to-fall-into traps when performing root cause analysis, including:

  • Don’t rely on assumptions when determining root causes. Use evidence to support to disprove a cause
  • Don’t limit your investigation. Go beyond one Five Why framework and be sure to exhaust all possibilities to avoid leaning on the first cause
  • Don’t rely on the first idea — come up with multiple solutions to solve a problem
  • Don’t work alone. Collaborating with a team will help you come up with a variety of potential solutions or new opportunities
  • Don’t think this is a one-time thing. Prepare for the future and discuss risk management and mitigation if you expect this problem to happen again, especially with issues that might be related to factors out of your control. What’s the worst that can happen, and what can we do about it to make sure the problem is addressed quickly with minimal interruption?

Final thoughts

A root cause analysis can be a great tool to help you uncover the true causes of a problem and reduce any reliance on assumptions or biases. With the right investigation and evidence collection, you can learn more about how and why a problem happened and identify causes below the surface.

RCA can ensure your solutions address the root problem and help you better plan for the future.

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  • What Is Root Cause Analysis? | Definition & Examples

What Is Root Cause Analysis? | Definition & Examples

Published on January 6, 2023 by Tegan George . Revised on November 17, 2023.

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a problem-solving approach that uses the analogy of roots and blooms to model cause-and-effect relationships. Rather than focusing on what’s above the surface, root cause analysis troubleshoots solutions to problems by analyzing what is causing them. Note Similarly to exploratory research , it’s important to remember that root cause analysis does not provide solutions to problems. Rather, it’s one method within a larger problem-solving landscape.

Root cause analysis is a form of quality management, often used in organizational management, quality control, and in healthcare fields like nursing. Root cause analysis can be a helpful study tool for students, too, when used for brainstorming or memorization exercises.

Table of contents

Root cause analysis template, the “5 whys” of root cause analysis, advantages and disadvantages of root cause analysis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions.

It’s easy to draw root cause analysis charts by hand, on a whiteboard or a big piece of paper. Many people use fishbone diagrams as well, or you can download our template below.

Root cause analysis template

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One of the most common ways to conduct root cause analysis is using the “5 Whys” method, popular in lean management. The 5 Whys are an interconnected method of analysis: after defining your problem, you ask “why?”  and answer as concisely as possible. The first “why” often leads to the second, which leads to the third, etc.

In short, you continue to ask “why” until the answer provided is no longer a contributor to the broader issue, but a possible solution to that issue. In other words, as you strategize, you’ll sense it’s time to stop when a provided answer has the potential to stop the whole problem from occurring, rather than only one aspect of that problem. This often takes 3-5 “whys” but can definitely stretch out for longer.

You can use this template to map out your whys.

5 Whys template

Root cause analysis is a great way to organize your thoughts, but its simplicity leads to a few downsides.

  • Great brainstorming tool for individual or group projects.
  • Can help identify causal relationships and clarify relationships between variables .
  • “5 whys” system can help simplify complex issues and drive possible solutions.


  • Can be overly simplistic, not leaving much room for nuance or variations.
  • Path dependence can occur if the wrong question is asked, leading to incorrect conclusions.
  • Cannot provide answers, only suggestions, so best used in the exploratory research phase .

If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.


  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

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See an example

solving problems in root cause analysis

There are several common tools used for root cause analysis , the most popular of which include fishbone diagrams , scatterplots, and the “5 whys.”

A fishbone diagram is a method that can be used to conduct root cause analysis.

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  • Guide: Root Cause Analysis
  • Learn Lean Sigma

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Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a key tool in continuous improvement, acting as a systematic approach to identify and tackle the underlying issues behind problems. RCA aims not only to provide a temporary fix but to offer long-lasting solutions by addressing the root causes.

RCA, such as the Fishbone Diagram , the 5 Whys , and FMEA . Whether you’re looking to solve complex challenges or improve cost-efficiency, this guide will offer understanding of how to identify the root cause of problems with useful Lean Six Sigma tools.

Table of Contents

What is root cause analysis.

Root Cause Analysis, often referred to as RCA, is like being a detective for problems in your business or project. Imagine you have a leaking pipe in your house. You could keep mopping up the water every time it leaks, but that’s not really solving the issue. The right thing to do is find out why it’s leaking in the first place and fix that. RCA works the same way; it helps you find out the “why” behind a problem so you can fix it for good.

Structured Approach

When we say RCA is a “structured approach,” we mean it’s not just random guesswork. It’s a planned way to dig deep into a problem. You will follow certain steps and use specific tools to figure out what’s really going on. This makes sure you’re not just treating the “symptoms” of the problem, like mopping up water from a leak, but you’re finding out why the problem is happening in the first place.

RCA Process (high level)

Identify Underlying Reasons

The “underlying reasons” are the real culprits behind a problem. For example, if a machine in a factory keeps breaking down, simply repairing it each time isn’t enough. You need to find out why it’s breaking down. Is it old? Are people using it wrong? RCA helps you answer these kinds of questions.

Identifying a root cause

Long-term Solutions

The coolest part about RCA is that it’s focused on long-term solutions. Once you know the root cause of a problem, you can create a fix that will (hopefully) make sure it never happens again. This is way better than just putting out fires all the time.

By understanding and using RCA, you’re not just stopping at “What is the problem?” You’re going the extra mile to ask, “Why did this problem happen?” and “How can we make sure it doesn’t happen again?” That’s a game-changer in making things better for the long run.

Importance of Root Cause Analysis

Understanding the “why” behind a problem isn’t just something that’s nice to do; it’s crucial for several reasons.

Problem Solving

Imagine you have a puzzle, but all the pieces are jumbled up. Trying to see the whole picture from this mess would be overwhelming, right? RCA is like sorting these puzzle pieces into groups; maybe by color or edge pieces versus middle pieces. When you break down a big, complex problem into smaller parts, it becomes much easier to solve. RCA helps you dissect a problem into its basic elements so you can tackle each one individually. This makes it easier to find out what’s really going wrong and fix it.


You know the saying, “Time is money”? Well, constantly fixing the same problem over and over again is like throwing both time and money down the drain. If you use RCA to get to the bottom of an issue and solve it at its root, that issue is less likely to come back. This means you spend less time, effort, and money on it in the future. For a business, this is a big deal because it means you can focus on growing and improving, rather than fixing the same old problems. This is where most businesses fail to progress as they spend the day to day activities fire fighting repreated problems.

Quality Improvement

Let’s say you run a bakery, and you notice that your chocolate chip cookies are coming out burnt too often. You could just toss the burnt cookies and make a new batch, but that doesn’t stop the next batch from burning too. If you use RCA to find out why they’re burning—maybe the oven temperature is wrong or the baking time is too long—you can fix that issue and make perfect cookies every time. This makes your customers happy and keeps them coming back. In the same way, RCA helps you improve the quality of your products or services by fixing the real issues, not just the symptoms. This leads to happier customers and better reviews, which are good for any business.

Types of Root Cause Analysis Methods

When it comes to finding the real reason behind a problem, one size doesn’t fit all. Different situations may require different approaches. That’s why there are several methods for conducting RCA. Let’s explore three of the most commonly used methods.

Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa)

Imagine a fish. The head represents the problem you’re facing, and the bones branching off from the fish’s spine are the possible causes of the problem. This is what a Fishbone Diagram looks like. Also known as an Ishikawa Diagram or Cause and Effect Diagram, this method helps you visually break down a problem into different categories or “themes.”

Fishbone diagram Lean Six SIgma Tool Ishikawa Diagrams Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Fish Bone Diagram Ishikawa Diagram Cause and Effect Diagram

For example, if you’re running a restaurant and customers are complaining about long wait times, you could use a Fishbone Diagram to categorize potential causes into themes like ‘Staffing,’ ‘Kitchen Efficiency,’ ‘Order Process,’ etc. Within each theme, you list out possible root causes. This helps you see the whole picture and makes it easier to identify where the real issue might be coming from.

You can learn more about the fishbone diagram process with our guide

Remember being a curious kid and asking “Why?” about everything? The 5 Whys method is pretty much the same. Start with the problem at hand and ask “Why did this happen?” Once you have an answer, ask “Why?” again, digging deeper. Keep asking “Why?” until you’ve asked it five times or until you reach a point where the root cause becomes clear.

For example, if a machine in a factory stops working, you could ask:

  • Why did the machine stop? (Answer: The motor burned out.)
  • Why did the motor burn out? (Answer: The motor was overloaded.)
  • Why was the motor overloaded? (Answer: The machine was running at high capacity for too long.)
  • Why was the machine running at high capacity for so long? (Answer: There was a backlog of orders.)
  • Why was there a backlog of orders? (Root Cause: Poor planning and scheduling.)
  • This helps you trace back the chain of events to find the root cause of the problem.

5 Whys Corrective and Preventive Actions Lean Six Sigma Tools Example of a 5 whys analysis bening done on production down time

You can learn more about the 5 Whys process with our guide.

FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis)

FMEA is like looking into a crystal ball to see what could go wrong in the future. It’s a way to evaluate different ways a process or product could fail and to understand the impact of those failures. You list out all possible failure modes, how likely they are to happen, how bad the impact would be, and how well you could detect them before they cause problems. This helps you prioritize which potential issues need immediate attention.

Below is an example from a manufacturing business. The higher the RPN (risk priority number) the more important it is to address the issue.

FMEA Example

You can learn more about the FMEA with our guide

Selecting an RCA method

If you are new to root cause analysis it can be difficult knowing which approach to use to solve your problem. This can be made simpler by considering the below

Is the problem simple and straightforward?

Use The 5 Whys Method

Is the problem complex with multiple factors?

Use Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa)

Is a quantitative risk assessment needed?

Use FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis)

Use other specialized RCA techniques or hybrid methods

The Five-Step RCA Process

RCA isn’t something you can do haphazardly; it requires a structured approach to be effective. That’s where the Five-Step RCA Process comes in handy. It provides a roadmap to tackle your problem methodically. Let’s start by discussing the first step in detail.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Before you can find a solution to any problem, you need to know exactly what that problem is. You’d be surprised how often people jump to fixing things without clearly understanding what’s wrong in the first place. Defining the problem is like setting the GPS before going on a trip; it sets the direction for everything that follows. Here’s how to go about it:

Be Specific

Let’s say you’re running a coffee shop, and you notice that customers aren’t coming back. Simply saying, “Business is slow,” is too vague. A more specific problem statement would be, “Customer return rate has dropped by 20% in the last two months.”

Numbers don’t lie. Whenever possible, use data to define your problem. In the coffee shop example, you could look at sales records, customer surveys, or loyalty program participation to pinpoint the decline.

Consider the 5 Ws

  • Who:  Who is affected by this problem? Is it just one department, the whole company, or maybe your customers?
  • What:  What exactly is the issue? Try to describe it in one sentence.
  • Where:  Where is this problem occurring? Is it in a specific location or across various places?
  • When:  When did you first notice this problem? Is it a constant issue or does it happen only at certain times?
  • Why:  At this stage, you may not know the root cause, but you might have some initial thoughts on why the problem might be occurring.

Write it Down

Once you’ve gathered all this information, write down your problem statement. This serves as a reference point for everyone involved in the RCA process, making sure everyone is on the same page.

After gathering all the relevant information, the problem statement for RCA could be:

“The rejection rate for Widget A produced on Line 3 has increased by 15% in Q2 2023 compared to Q1 2023, predominantly due to ‘Cracked Surface’ defects. This issue first became apparent at the beginning of Q2 and has been consistent since. Initial observations suggest it may be due to material quality or machine calibration issues.”

RCA Problem definition Data

Step 2: Gather Data

Once you’ve clearly defined the problem, the next step is like being a detective gathering clues. You’ll need to collect all the relevant information that will help you get to the bottom of the issue. This stage is crucial because the quality of your Root Cause Analysis depends on the quality of your data. Here’s how to go about it:

Identify Data Sources

First, figure out where you can get the information you need. This could be anything from company records and employee interviews to customer surveys and machine logs. For example, if your problem is a decrease in product quality, you might look at manufacturing data, quality control reports, and customer feedback.

Types of Data to Collect

  • Quantitative Data : These are numerical data that can be measured. Examples include sales figures, production rates, and customer satisfaction scores.
  • Qualitative Data : These are descriptive data that can be observed but not measured. Examples include employee morale, customer comments, and the observable state of machinery or processes.

Timing Matters

When did the problem start? Was it gradual or sudden? Understanding the timeline can offer important insights into potential causes. Collect historical data if possible, as this will help you see trends and patterns.

Use Tools to Collect Data

Depending on your needs, various tools can help in data collection. Spreadsheets can be useful for tracking numbers and metrics. Surveys and questionnaires can capture customer or employee feedback. Advanced organizations may use specialized software for data collection and analysis.

Document Everything

Make sure to keep a record of all the data you collect. Organize the data in a way that’s easy to understand and analyze. Charts, graphs, or tables can be helpful here.

Verify Your Data

Before you move on to analyzing the data, make sure it’s accurate and reliable. Double-check your numbers, verify survey results, and confirm any observations. The last thing you want is to make important decisions based on faulty information.

Gathering data might seem like a time-consuming step, but it’s essential for a successful Root Cause Analysis. The more thorough you are at this stage, the easier it will be to identify the actual root cause of the problem later on.

Example Collected Data

Here’s a snapshot of what some of the collected data could look like:

Machine Logs (June 2023)

Quality control reports (june 2023), employee interviews.

  • Operators have noticed the machine making unusual noises.
  • Quality control staff report an increase in defects that look like cracks on the surface.

Step 3: Identify Possible Causes

After you’ve defined your problem and collected all the relevant data, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dig into the “why” behind the issue. This step is like brainstorming, but more structured. You’re trying to come up with a list of all the things that could possibly be causing the problem you’ve identified. Here’s how to do it:

Choose a Method

As mentioned earlier, there are various methods you can use to identify possible causes. Two of the most common are the Fishbone Diagram and the 5 Whys. The choice depends on the nature of your problem.

  • Fishbone Diagram: This is good for complex problems where multiple factors could be at play. The diagram allows you to visually organize potential causes into different categories, making it easier to focus your investigation.
  • The 5 Whys: This method is more straightforward and works well for simpler problems. By repeatedly asking “Why?” you dig deeper into the issue until you identify possible root causes.

Involve the Right People

Don’t try to do this all on your own. Involve team members who are familiar with the problem area. They can offer valuable insights you might not have considered. If you’re dealing with a technical issue, for instance, having an engineer in the room can be incredibly helpful.

Generate a List of Possible Causes

Using your chosen method, start listing down all the potential causes. Be as comprehensive as possible. If you’re using a Fishbone Diagram, for instance, you’d list potential causes under each category or “bone” of the fish. For the 5 Whys, you’d document the chain of reasoning that leads you to potential root causes.

Use Your Data

Remember the data you collected in Step 2? Now’s the time to use it. Align your list of possible causes with the data to see which ones are most likely. For example, if one of your potential causes is “Poor Training,” but your data shows that all employees have completed mandatory training, then you might want to reconsider that cause.

Prioritize Causes

Not all causes are created equal. Some are more likely than others to be the root cause of your problem. Use your team’s expertise and the data you’ve collected to prioritize which causes to investigate further.

By the end of this step, you should have a well-organized list of possible causes for your problem, backed by data and expert input. This sets the stage for the next steps, where you’ll zero in on the actual root cause and figure out how to fix it.

Example of Identifying Possible causes

Following on with the same example, as this is a more complex issue with multiple factors, it makes sense to conduct the root cause analysis using the Fishbone method. Therefore, we need to ensure to include the right people—a cross-functional team. In this case, that would comprise production engineers who understand the machinery, quality control experts who have the data on defects, and machine operators who can provide firsthand experience and observations.

The next step is to collectively brainstorm and categorize potential causes for the increased rejection rate in Widget A. Utilizing the Fishbone Diagram, the team breaks down the problem into six major categories: Machine, Method, Material, Manpower, Environment, and Measurement.

Identifying the possible causes in our example

Following on with the same example, as this is a more complex issue with multiple factors, it makes sense to conduct the root cause analysis using the Fishbone method. Therefore, we need to ensure to include the right people—a cross-functional team. In this case, that would comprise production engineers who understand the machinery, quality control experts who have the data on defects, and machine operators who can provide firsthand experience and observations. The next step is to collectively brainstorm and categorize potential causes for the increased rejection rate in Widget A.  Utilizing the Fishbone Diagram, the team breaks down the problem into six major categories: Machine, Method, Material, Manpower, Environment, and Measurement.

RCA Example - Fishbone analysis

Step 4: Determine the Root Cause

After identifying a list of possible causes, it’s time to put on your detective hat again and figure out which one is the real culprit—the root cause of your problem. 

Determining The Root Cause Process

This is a critical step, as identifying the wrong cause can lead you down a path of ineffective solutions. Here’s how to go about it:

Review Your List of Possible Causes

Start by revisiting the list you made in the previous step. This will serve as your “suspect list” in identifying the root cause. At this point, you’ve already done some initial prioritization, so you have an idea of which causes are most likely.

Analyze the Data

Remember the data you collected in Step 2? Now is the time to dive deep into it. Compare each possible cause against the data to see if it holds up. Look for patterns, correlations, or anomalies that might point to one cause over the others.

For example, if you’re dealing with a decrease in product quality and one of your possible causes is “Faulty Raw Materials,” you could look at inspection reports, batch numbers, and supplier records to see if there’s a correlation.

Conduct Tests or Experiments

Sometimes, analyzing existing data isn’t enough. You might need to conduct additional tests or experiments to validate or rule out possible causes. For instance, if you suspect a machine is malfunctioning and causing a problem, you might run it under controlled conditions to see if the issue repeats.

Use Logical Reasoning

Sometimes the root cause isn’t obvious, even with data and testing. In such cases, logical reasoning can help. You might use deductive reasoning to rule out unlikely causes or inductive reasoning to generalize from specific observations.

Involve Experts

If you’re stuck or the root cause isn’t clear, don’t hesitate to consult experts. These could be internal team members with specific expertise or external consultants who specialize in the problem area you’re investigating.

Confirm the Root Cause

Before you move on to finding a solution, make sure you’ve found the real root cause and not just a symptom of a deeper issue. Validate your findings by asking:

  • Does this cause explain most or all of the problem?
  • If we fix this, is it likely that the problem will be solved?
  • Do most team members agree that this is the root cause?

Once you’ve determined the root cause, document it clearly. You’ll use this information in the next step to develop and implement a solution that addresses the issue at its core, ensuring it’s less likely to recur in the future.

Determining the Root Cause of our Example

Continuing with our example, the cross-functional team now shifts its focus to determining the root cause of the increased rejection rate for Widget A. Armed with their prioritized list of possible causes and the data gathered, they delve into the next step of the RCA process.

The team begins by revisiting the “suspect list” generated using the Fishbone Diagram. Machine-related factors, particularly temperature fluctuations, pressure inconsistencies, and cycle time variability, are at the top of this list, followed by material quality concerns. Analyze the Data Digging deeper into the data collected, the team finds that the temperature, pressure, and cycle time increases directly correlate with the spike in the ‘Cracked Surface’ defect type. They also note that the unusual noises observed by machine operators started to occur around the same time the defects increased. Conduct Tests or Experiments To validate these observations, the team decides to run the molding machine under controlled conditions, varying one parameter at a time while keeping the others constant. After a series of tests, they discover that an increase in temperature directly leads to the ‘Cracked Surface’ defects in the widgets. Use Logical Reasoning Using deductive reasoning, the team rules out other possible causes. For instance, since all operators have completed mandatory training and the material batches show no signs of contamination, these are less likely to be the root causes. Confirm the Root Cause After careful consideration and validation, the team reaches a consensus that the root cause of the problem is “Temperature Fluctuations in the Molding Machine.” This conclusion satisfies the criteria for root cause identification: It explains most, if not all, of the ‘Cracked Surface’ defects. Fixing this issue is likely to resolve the problem. Most team members agree that this is the root cause. The team documents this root cause clearly and prepares for the next step in the RCA process: developing and implementing a solution that will fix this issue at its core, thereby preventing its recurrence in the future.

Step 5: Implement and Monitor Solutions

Congratulations, you’ve identified the root cause! But your journey doesn’t end here. The whole point of Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is to not just find the root cause but to fix it so the problem doesn’t happen again. This is where Step 5 comes in, where you implement solutions and make sure they actually work. Here’s how to go about it:

Develop a Solution Plan

The first thing you need to do is come up with a plan for how you’re going to fix the root cause you’ve identified. This should include:

  • What  needs to be done: The specific actions that will address the root cause.
  • Who  will do it: The people responsible for each action.
  • When  it will be done: A timeline for implementation.
  • How  it will be done: The resources and methods needed to implement the solution.

Gain Approval and Support

Before you start making changes, make sure you have the necessary approvals. This might mean getting a budget approved or getting buy-in from key stakeholders. The more support you have, the smoother the implementation process will be.

Implement the Solution

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Follow the plan you’ve developed, and start implementing the solution. This could involve anything from retraining staff and revising procedures to repairing equipment or introducing new technology.

Monitor Effectiveness

You can’t just implement a solution and walk away. You need to monitor how well it’s working. This means going back to the data you collected in Step 2 and continuing to track those metrics. Are they showing improvement? If not, you may need to revisit your solution or even go back to earlier steps in the RCA process.

Make Adjustments as Needed

Sometimes a solution that looks great on paper doesn’t work out as well in the real world. If you find that your solution isn’t as effective as you’d hoped, be prepared to make adjustments. This could mean tweaking your current solution or going back to the drawing board to identify a different root cause.

Document the Process

Don’t forget to document everything you’ve done, from the solutions you implemented to the results you achieved. This documentation can be invaluable for future problem-solving efforts and for creating a knowledge base that can help prevent similar problems in the future.

Implementing and monitoring solutions of our example

After identifying “Temperature Fluctuations in the Molding Machine” as the root cause, the team crafts a detailed solution plan: What Needs to Be Done : Overhaul the machine’s cooling system and recalibrate temperature settings. Who Will Do It : A dedicated team of production engineers and machine operators. When It Will Be Done : To be completed within a two-week timeframe. How It Will Be Done : Allocate necessary resources like new cooling components and software for recalibration.
Gain Approval and Support Before proceeding, the team prepares a budget proposal and secures approval from management. They also consult with the quality control team and machine operators to gain their buy-in, ensuring a smoother implementation process. Implement the Solution The team then sets out to execute the plan. The cooling system is overhauled, and the machine is recalibrated. A pilot run is conducted to ensure that the new settings are effective in maintaining consistent temperature levels. Monitor Effectiveness After implementing the changes, the team goes back to the data. They continue to monitor the same metrics—temperature, pressure, cycle time, and defect count. Initial results show a significant reduction in the ‘Cracked Surface’ defect type. The temperature fluctuations have notably decreased. Make Adjustments as Needed While the initial results are promising, the team remains vigilant. They agree to meet bi-weekly to review the data and make any necessary adjustments to the solution. So far, no further modifications are required. Document the Process The entire RCA process, from problem identification to solution implementation and monitoring, is meticulously documented. This documentation will serve as a valuable resource for future troubleshooting and continuous improvement initiatives. By diligently following this five-step RCA process, the team has not only identified the root cause of the problem but has also successfully implemented a solution to prevent its recurrence.

RCA is more than just a problem-solving method; it’s a strategic approach that dives deep into issues to eliminate them at their source. By following the Five-Step RCA Process, organizations can not only identify the real culprits behind their problems but also develop and implement long-lasting solutions. This guide walked you through each step in detail, from defining the problem to monitoring the effectiveness of your solutions. Remember, the quality of your RCA is as good as the effort and attention to detail you put into it. Whether you’re looking to improve product quality, enhance customer satisfaction, or increase cost-efficiency, a well-executed RCA can be a game-changing tool in your continuous improvement arsenal. It’s not just about fixing what’s broken; it’s about building something better for the long term.

  • Williams, P.M., 2001, April. Techniques for root cause analysis . In  Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings  (Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 154-157). Taylor & Francis.
  • Gangidi, P., 2018. A systematic approach to root cause analysis using 3× 5 why’s technique.   International Journal of Lean Six Sigma ,  10 (1), pp.295-310.
  • Wong, K.C., Woo, K.Z. and Woo, K.H., 2016. Ishikawa diagram.   Quality Improvement in Behavioral Health , pp.119-132.

Q: Why is Root Cause Analysis important?

A: Identifying and resolving the root cause of an issue is crucial for achieving sustainable improvements. Focusing only on symptoms can lead to temporary fixes that may mask the underlying problem. RCA helps you understand the systemic issues contributing to a problem, allowing you to put in place measures that result in lasting change.

Q: What are the common methods used for Root Cause Analysis?

A: Several methods are commonly used for Root Cause Analysis, including:

  • 5 Whys : A simple technique that involves asking “why” multiple times until the root cause is identified.
  • Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa Diagram) : A visual tool used to categorize potential causes of a problem.
  • Fault Tree Analysis : A graphical representation of various probable causes of an issue, arranged in a hierarchical manner.
  • Pareto Analysis : Identifying the most significant factors contributing to a problem based on the Pareto principle.
  • FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) : A structured approach to identifying potential failure modes and their consequences.

Q: How do I start a Root Cause Analysis?

A: Initiating a Root Cause Analysis typically involves the following steps:

  • Define the Problem : Clearly articulate what the issue is.
  • Collect Data : Gather relevant information and evidence.
  • Identify Possible Causes : List potential causes that could be contributing to the problem.
  • Analyze : Use RCA methods like the 5 Whys or Fishbone Diagram to dig deeper.
  • Identify Root Cause(s) : Through analysis, pinpoint the underlying cause(s).
  • Develop and Implement Solutions : Create action plans to address the root cause(s).
  • Review : Evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions and make adjustments as needed.

Q: Can Root Cause Analysis be applied to non-manufacturing sectors?

A: Absolutely, Root Cause Analysis is a versatile tool that can be applied in various sectors, including healthcare, IT, logistics, and even the public sector. The principles remain the same: identify the root cause to implement effective, long-term solutions.

Q: What are some common pitfalls to avoid in Root Cause Analysis?

A: Some common pitfalls to be aware of include:

  • Rushing the Process : Skipping steps or rushing through them can lead to incorrect conclusions.
  • Blaming Individuals : RCA should focus on systemic issues rather than blaming individual employees.
  • Ignoring Data : Failing to consult data can result in assumptions that may not be accurate.
  • Lack of Follow-Up : Without proper evaluation and adjustment, even good solutions may fail over time.

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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Article • 8 min read

Root Cause Analysis

Tracing a problem to its origins.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

In medicine, it's easy to understand the difference between treating the symptoms and curing the condition. A broken wrist, for example, really hurts! But painkillers will only take away the symptoms; you'll need a different treatment to help your bones heal properly.

But what do you do when you have a problem at work? Do you jump straight in and treat the symptoms, or do you stop to consider whether there's actually a deeper problem that needs your attention? If you only fix the symptoms – what you see on the surface – the problem will almost certainly return, and need fixing over and over again.

However, if you look deeper to figure out what's causing the problem, you can fix the underlying systems and processes so that it goes away for good.

solving problems in root cause analysis

What Is Root Cause Analysis?

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a popular and often-used technique that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. It seeks to identify the origin of a problem using a specific set of steps, with associated tools, to find the primary cause of the problem, so that you can:

  • Determine what happened.
  • Determine why it happened.
  • Figure out what to do to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again.

RCA assumes that systems and events are interrelated. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on. By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it grew into the symptom you're now facing.

You'll usually find three basic types of causes:

  • Physical causes – Tangible, material items failed in some way (for example, a car's brakes stopped working).
  • Human causes – People did something wrong, or did not do something that was needed. Human causes typically lead to physical causes (for example, no one filled the brake fluid, which led to the brakes failing).
  • Organizational causes – A system, process or policy that people use to make decisions or do their work is faulty (for example, no one person was responsible for vehicle maintenance, and everyone assumed someone else had filled the brake fluid).

RCA looks at all three types of causes. It involves investigating the patterns of negative effects, finding hidden flaws in the system, and discovering specific actions that contributed to the problem. This often means that RCA reveals more than one root cause.

You can apply RCA to almost any situation. Determining how far to go in your investigation requires good judgment and common sense. Theoretically, you could continue to trace the root causes back to the Stone Age, but the effort would serve no useful purpose. Be careful to understand when you've found a significant cause that can, in fact, be changed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is root cause analysis important.

RCA allows you to get to the true source of a problem, and stop it in its tracks. This is more effective than simply remedying the symptoms. By identifying and alleviating the root cause of a problem, you can prevent an issue from occurring again in the future.

What is the 5 Whys technique?

The 5 Whys is a common problem-solving technique. You simply ask "why" something is happening until you get to the source of the issue.

Though a useful tool in its own right, the 5 Whys method can be used during a Root Cause Analysis to help you quickly identify different causal factors of a problem.

What are the five steps of a root cause analysis?

RCA has five identifiable steps:

  • Define the problem.
  • Collect data.
  • Identify causal factors.
  • Identify root cause(s).
  • Implement solutions.

Read on to learn how to carry out each step in your own root cause analysis.

How to Perform a Root Cause Analysis

Step one: define the problem.

Ask yourself the following:

  • What do you see happening?
  • What are the specific symptoms?

Step Two: Collect Data

  • What proof do you have that the problem exists?
  • How long has the problem existed?
  • What is the impact of the problem?

You need to analyze a situation fully before you can move on to look at factors that contributed to the problem. To maximize the effectiveness of your RCA, get together everyone – experts and frontline staff – who understands the situation. People who are most familiar with the problem can help lead you to a better understanding of the issues.

A helpful tool at this stage is CATWOE . With this process, you look at the same situation from different perspectives: the Customers, the people (Actors) who implement the solutions, the Transformation process that's affected, the World view, the process Owner, and Environmental constraints.

Step Three: Identify Possible Causal Factors

  • What sequence of events leads to the problem?
  • What conditions allow the problem to occur?
  • What other problems surround the occurrence of the central problem?

During this stage, identify as many causal factors as possible. Too often, people identify one or two factors and then stop, but that's not sufficient. With RCA, you don't want to simply treat the most obvious causes – you want to dig deeper.

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis

Use the 5 Whys tool to identify the root causes of a problem quickly. Just ask "Why?" until you reveal each causal factor.

If you need a more in-depth technique to identify possible factors, try these other tools that can help you dig further into each cause:

  • Appreciation – Use the facts and ask "So what?" to determine all the possible consequences of a fact.
  • Drill Down – Break down a problem into small, detailed parts to better understand the big picture.
  • Cause and Effect Diagrams – Create a chart of all of the possible causal factors, to see where the trouble may have begun.

Step Four: Identify the Root Cause(s)

  • Why does the causal factor exist?
  • What is the real reason the problem occurred?

Use the same tools you used to identify the causal factors (in Step Three) to look at the roots of each factor. These tools are designed to encourage you to dig deeper at each level of cause and effect.

Step Five: Recommend and Implement Solutions

  • What can you do to prevent the problem from happening again?
  • How will the solution be implemented?
  • Who will be responsible for it?
  • What are the risks of implementing the solution?

Analyze your cause-and-effect process, and identify the changes needed for various systems. It's also important that you plan ahead to predict the effects of your solution. This way, you can spot potential failures before they happen.

One way of doing this is to use Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). This tool builds on the idea of risk analysis to identify points where a solution could fail. FMEA is also a great system to implement across your organization; the more systems and processes that use FMEA at the start, the less likely you are to have problems that need RCA in the future.

Impact Analysis is another useful tool here. This helps you explore possible positive and negative consequences of a change on different parts of a system or organization.

Another great strategy to adopt is Kaizen , or continuous improvement. This is the idea that continual small changes create better systems overall. Kaizen also emphasizes that the people closest to a process should identify places for improvement. Again, with Kaizen alive and well in your company, the root causes of problems can be identified and resolved quickly and effectively.

Tips for Performing Effective Root Cause Analysis

Collaborate with other teams . Gain a diverse range of experiences and expertise by working with relevant people from other teams. They can likely offer different perspectives that will help to find the various causes of the problem.

Don’t play the blame game! Root cause analysis is a tool that helps you and your team overcome problems, but it shouldn’t be used to criticize or blame someone. Instead, try to create a blame-free culture, so that your co-workers feel confident in sharing ideas and insights. This will help you to diagnose the issue quickly and effectively.

Keep your questions open-ended. Leave any assumptions you have about the potential causes of the problem at the door. RCA is a chance to look at a problem with fresh eyes, so use open-ended questions as you work through the five steps. This will allow you to reveal things you didn’t already know, and find the most effective solution.

  • Root Cause Analysis is a useful process for understanding and solving a problem.
  • Figure out what negative events are occurring. Then, look at the complex systems around those problems, and identify key points of failure. Finally, determine solutions to address those key points, or root causes.
  • You can use many tools to support your RCA process. Cause and Effect Diagrams and 5 Whys are integral to the process itself, while FMEA and Kaizen help minimize the need for RCA in the future.
  • As an analytical tool, RCA is an essential way to perform a comprehensive, system-wide review of significant problems as well as the events and factors leading to them.

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Root cause analysis: Digging to find effective solutions (with examples)

Team Asana contributor image

Root cause analysis (RCA) finds the root causes of a problem and helps you identify and implement solutions. Instead of treating surface-level symptoms of a problem, RCA digs deeper and finds the underlying issues. By taking the time to analyze the real reason why a problem is occurring, you can solve the problem for good instead of opting for a quick fix. In this piece, you’ll learn how RCA can be the key to corrective action.

“Let’s get to the root of the problem” is an idiom people commonly use when looking for solutions. This idiom can be visualized in the form of tree roots below the surface. Tree roots aren’t visible, but their growth is obvious above ground. Sometimes this growth is positive and results in a beautiful tree, and sometimes it’s negative—damaging sidewalks and foundations. 

What is root cause analysis?

A root cause analysis (RCA) involves finding the root causes of a problem in order to identify and implement solutions. RCA treats the underlying causes of a problem instead of the surface-level symptoms of the problem itself. 

For example, if your company is suffering from a low retention rate, hiring more team members is a quick solution. But with RCA, you can instead discover why team members aren’t staying with the company so you can increase retention long term. Root causes of low retention rate could include:

Lack of professional development opportunities

Poor team member benefits

Low pay compared to market range

Low team morale

After considering possible root causes, you can use research to determine one or multiple root causes. Once you understand those root causes, it’s easy to implement a solution. RCA addresses problems systematically instead of placing a bandaid over problems and taking the risk that the problem will occur again. 

Key principles of RCA

Root cause analysis can resolve recurring project issues or larger bottlenecks within business processes. If you want to reap the unique benefits of this method, keep these key principles of RCA in mind:

Instead of correcting the symptoms of a problem, focus on its root causes.

Focus less on who caused the problem and more on how and why the problem occurred.

Find cause-and-effect evidence to support the root causes you’ve identified.

Develop an informative action plan to support your solutions.

Consider how you can prevent root causes from reoccurring in the future.

Remember that you can have multiple root causes for a problem, and it’s not out of the ordinary for this to happen. End with the root causes you feel are most accurate and be prepared to tackle them with strong solutions. 

How to perform a root cause analysis

There are various strategies you can use to identify root causes in RCA. Use the steps below to guide your team through the RCA process. 

[inline illustration] Root cause analysis (RCA) step by step (infographic)

1. Define the problem

You’ll need a clearly defined problem to perform a root cause analysis. If you have multiple problems you want to solve, it’s best to start with one and perform multiple RCAs to find solutions for each. By tackling one problem at a time, you’ll have a better chance of finding the cause of each issue and addressing it quickly.

Defining your problem also involves getting everyone on the same page. For example, you may want to perform RCA because you think your team is suffering from low productivity. But if your team doesn’t feel like their productivity is low, then you can’t move forward. Because productivity is subjective, you may need to define your problem in a more measurable way and move on to step two where you’ll use evidence to learn more about the problem. 

2. Collect data

You’ll now need to collect evidence to support the idea that the problem exists. You can also use company research to better understand the symptoms of the problem. Questions you should ask during this step include:

How long has the problem existed?

Who is suffering because of this problem?

What is the short-term and long-term impact of this problem?

What are the key symptoms of this problem?

What evidence do we have to support the idea that there’s a problem?

Once you know more about how this issue impacts your company and team members, you can brainstorm potential causes of the problem. 

3. Identify possible root causes

Identifying possible root causes is the most important part of the root cause analysis process. The causes you find in this step will eventually lead you toward a solution and action plan. Common problem-solving strategies include:

Cause-and-effect flow chart: The free root cause analysis template provided below features a cause-and-effect flowchart. This flowchart breaks down the problem into symptoms, possible causes, and actual causes in order to find a logical solution. 

5 whys approach : You can also use the 5 whys approach to get to the root cause of a problem. Instead of taking the problem at face-value, ask "why" until you uncover a process or system that isn't working the way it's supposed to. When you don’t settle for the first answer you land on, you can discover layers of issues that weren’t noticeable right away. 

[inline illustration] 5 whys analysis (example)

4. Determine the root cause

To determine the root cause of your problem, you’ll go through as many possible root causes as you can. Once you’ve exhausted every possibility, ask the following questions:

Are there any similarities between the root causes I’ve identified?

Are there reasons to eliminate any of these possible root causes?

Which root cause seems most problematic?

Similar to the strategies you used when looking for possible root causes, there are strategies you can use to get to the actual root cause. These strategies include:

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): FMEA is a tool similar to risk analysis where you’ll look at the possible root causes you’ve identified and eliminate the ones that are most likely to result in failure later on. 

Impact analysis: Use an impact analysis to assess the positive and negative impacts of each possible root cause you’ve identified. When you make this hypothetical pro and cons list for each cause, you can feel more confident narrowing down your list.

You may struggle to identify a singular root cause of your problem, and that’s okay. If you think your problem has multiple contributing factors, don’t feel pressured to choose just one to solve. It’s nice to streamline your action plan, but sometimes you’ll need to create multiple plans to address an issue.

5. Implement solutions

Once you’re confident in the root causes you’ve identified, it’s time to find solutions for these causes and take action. The solutions you come up with should address the root cause, but as a result, these solutions will work their way back up the chain and address your initial problem. 

Ask yourself these questions when developing solutions:

How will we implement this solution if we choose it?

What roadblocks will we face when implementing this solution?

How long will it take to implement this solution?

Who will implement this solution?

Could implementing this solution lead to other problems?

Once you’re ready to create your implementation plan , make sure it’s shared in a tool that all stakeholders can view. Project management software makes it easy for your team to collaborate and coordinate deliverables as needed. It may take several weeks to implement your plan, which means some of your objectives may become dependent on other milestones. Use Gantt charts to view project dependencies and collaborate in real-time.

Root cause analysis template and example

An RCA template makes performing root cause analysis simpler because you can visualize your problem and its underlying causes in flowchart form. Just like the roots of a tree, this cause-and-effect flow chart expands in different directions from the initial problem. 

If you follow the root cause analysis example below, you’ll see how the template begins with one problem and then breaks down into the symptoms the problem displays. From the symptoms, the root cause analysis template helps you determine possible root causes before settling on actual root causes and finding solutions. 

In this example, the company is suffering from a loss of website views. The root cause analysis flows as follows:

Website views are down

Reduction in brand visibility

Lack of online purchases

Low domain authority

Possible root causes:

Technical issues with our website

Competitor ranking higher in SERPs

Customers don’t like our product

Customers can’t find our website to make purchases

Poor quality content

Irrelevant backlinks

Actual root causes:

Lack of SEO content

Website isn’t ranking in the SERPs

Lack of relevant keywords

Revamp content

[inline illustration] root cause analysis (example)

You can download a free root cause analysis template below and use it to identify possible causes and solutions for problems you’re experiencing at work. An RCA template can help you address underlying issues that may not have been obvious at first.

Root-cause analysis tools and methods

Root cause analysis stands as a cornerstone in continuous improvement and risk management efforts. It offers a systematic process to unearth the real root causes of problems or incidents. 

By going beyond symptoms, root cause analysis tools empower RCA teams to delve into the deeper, underlying causes of issues. This deep dive doesn't just lead to temporary fixes; it leads to more effective, long-term resolutions—transforming challenges into opportunities for lasting improvement.

Pareto charts

Pareto analysis, based on the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule ), is a decision-making technique that helps in identifying the tasks or problem areas with the biggest payoffs. Pareto analysis is particularly effective when there are multiple causes leading to a single effect. This method is widely applied in various business and organizational sectors, helping to prioritize actions that have the greatest impact.

The 5 Whys method is an iterative interrogative method used to analyze the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a specific problem. It involves repeatedly asking the question "Why?" to peel away layers of symptoms, leading to the real root cause of a problem. The Five Whys technique is widely used in lean methodologies to solve problems, reduce costs, and improve quality.

Ishikawa fishbone diagram

The fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, is a visual way to look at cause and effect. It helps in brainstorming to detect potential root causes of a problem and is used for product design and quality management. The Ishikawa diagram displays the effect or problem at the mouth of the fish, with potential causes added to the smaller "bones."

Fault tree analysis

Fault tree analysis is a graphical tool that uses Boolean logic—in which the answers to every question are "yes" or “no"—to determine the cause of system-level failures. It's suitable for risk assessment in industries like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and software engineering. The tool arranges events in sequences and uses logic symbols to show dependencies among events.

Failure Mode and Effective Analysis (FMEA)

FMEA involves reviewing components, subsystems, and assemblies to find weak links in a system and their causes and effects. Developed in the late 1950s, it is both a quantitative and qualitative analysis method used in designing products, processes, or services and for creating control plans for new or modified processes.

Scatter diagram

The scatter diagram is a graphical tool that plots pairs of numerical data, with one variable on each axis, to examine the relationship between them. When variables are correlated, the points will align along a line or curve. How closely the points cluster around the line indicates the strength of the correlation. This root cause analysis tool is regarded as one of the seven basic quality tools and is essential in determining the relationships between different variables in root cause analysis.

DMAIC template

DMAIC, standing for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, is a structured approach used in Six Sigma to optimize processes. It provides quantifiable evidence of improvements and is a repeatable and easy-to-understand method for detecting issues and developing solutions. This template is excellent for project managers and RCA teams.

8D report template checklist

The 8D report template is used for detailed root-cause analysis based on eight disciplines of problem-solving. It's widely used in industries influenced by customer feedback, such as automotive and healthcare. The template helps in identifying and eradicating the problem, focusing on the "escape point," which represents the point when the issue first went undetected.

Events and causal factor analysis

Events and causal factor analysis identifies the sequence of events and the causal factors that led to an issue or problem. This analysis focuses on understanding the chronological order of events and the specific conditions or actions that contributed to the problem. A cause-and-effect diagram is particularly useful in complex situations where multiple factors interact to cause an issue. 

Change analysis

Change analysis is a key component of effective root cause analysis, particularly in quality management and continuous improvement efforts. This method involves examining and comparing the situation or system before and after the occurrence of a problem. 

By identifying what changed, you can isolate causal factors more accurately. Change analysis is valuable in scenarios where the issue emerged following alterations in processes, materials, personnel, or equipment, helping to pinpoint the real root cause of the problem swiftly.

Barrier analysis

Barrier analysis is a problem-solving process that examines the controls and barriers that were in place to prevent an incident and why those safety checks failed. By analyzing the breakdown or absence of these barriers, root cause analysis teams can identify human error, system flaws, and other potential root causes. Barrier analysis contributes to the development of more robust systems and processes, preventing future occurrences of similar issues.

Tips for conducting an effective root cause analysis

Have you ever wondered how to not only solve problems but also prevent them from recurring? Root cause analysis methods are the key. These methods go into the heart of issues, address their underlying causes, and pave the way for lasting improvements. 

This approach doesn't just offer a temporary fix; it ensures the same problems don’t resurface, fostering continuous improvements in processes and outcomes.

Encourage team collaboration

Promoting team collaboration can significantly enhance the effectiveness of root cause analysis. Diverse perspectives and expertise contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and the development of effective solutions.

Example: Consider a manufacturing company facing frequent equipment breakdowns. By forming a cross-functional RCA team with members from engineering, maintenance, and operations, they can pool their insights to identify the root cause. 

An engineer may pinpoint a design flaw, while a maintenance worker could identify wear and tear issues, and an operator might highlight operational errors. This collaborative approach leads to a comprehensive problem statement that results in a multifaceted and effective solution.

Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are key in root-cause analysis. Asking questions encourages a detailed exploration of the issue, allowing team members to consider various possibilities and delve deeper into the underlying causes.

Example: In a healthcare setting, if there's a rise in patient readmissions, asking open-ended questions like "What are the common factors among these readmissions?" or "How do our discharge processes vary for patients who are readmitted?" can reveal deeper issues. 

These questions could uncover that certain discharge procedures aren't being followed consistently, leading to the root cause of inadequate patient education at discharge.

Avoid blame

An essential aspect of successful root cause analysis is focusing on the process and not on individual blame. Concentrating on the "why" and "how" of the problem rather than "who" was responsible creates an environment conducive to genuine problem-solving and improvement.

Example: In a software development team experiencing frequent project delays, focusing on the process rather than blaming individuals can be more productive. By analyzing the “why” and “how,” such as asking, "Why are these delays happening?" or "How can we optimize our project management strategies?" they might discover that the root cause is not individual incompetence but an unrealistic timeline or unclear communication channels. 

This shift from blame to process-oriented thinking helps create a more effective and harmonious problem-solving environment.

Turn solutions into action with workflows

RCA doesn’t come with instant results, but getting to the root cause of a problem solves it for good. After coming up with an effective solution, you’ll need to put a plan into action. Asana workflows provide a single source of truth to set goals, monitor progress, and watch your problems fade in real-time.

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Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Methods for Effective Problem Solving

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 8, 2023 — 7 minutes to read

Imagine facing a problem in your organization that keeps recurring despite your best efforts to solve it. You might be addressing the symptoms, but not the underlying cause. This is where root cause analysis (RCA) comes into play. RCA is a systematic approach to identifying the root cause of problems or events, understanding how to fix or compensate for them, and applying the knowledge gained to prevent future issues or replicate successes. In this comprehensive guide to root cause analysis, you’ll learn various methods and techniques for conducting an RCA. You’ll understand how to gather and manage evidence, investigate the people, processes, and systems involved, and determine the key factors leading to the problem or event.

Whether you’re a project manager, a team leader, or simply someone looking to improve your problem-solving skills, this guide will help you grasp the fundamentals of RCA and apply them effectively in your work. As you delve deeper into the world of Root Cause Analysis, you’ll discover how it can turn challenges into opportunities for growth and pave the way for a more efficient and successful future.

Related: 3 Root Cause Analysis Templates (and Examples)

5 Whys: How to Uncover Root Causes [Examples]

Root Cause Analysis Fundamentals

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a systematic approach to identify the underlying cause of a problem. By focusing on the root cause, you can effectively address the issue and prevent recurrence. Generally, RCA is used to investigate incidents, eliminate defects, and enhance systems or processes.

RCA aims to achieve the following objectives:

  • Determine the root cause of a problem or issue, not just its symptoms.
  • Identify and implement solutions that address the root cause and prevent its recurrence.
  • Improve understanding of the systems, processes, or components involved to avoid similar issues in the future.
  • Foster a proactive and continuous improvement mindset within your organization.

When conducting RCA, maintain an open mind and avoid making assumptions. Utilize critical thinking and involve team members from various disciplines to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

The RCA Process

Problem identification.

To effectively utilize Root Cause Analysis (RCA), first identify the problem at hand. Determine the specific issue, incident, or failure that needs to be investigated. Clearly define the problem and its impact on your organization’s operations in order to establish a focused and valuable analysis.

Data Collection

Gather relevant data about the problem, including when and where it occurred, who was involved, what processes and systems were affected, and any other important context. Be thorough and systematic in your data collection, and make use of any available documentation, interviews, or observations to build a comprehensive understanding.

Cause Identification

Analyze the collected data to pinpoint potential causes of the problem. This could start with brainstorming and then using tools such as cause-and-effect diagrams or the “5 Whys” technique to delve deeper into the issue. Determine the causes that are most likely to have contributed to the problem and classify them as either root causes or contributing factors.

Solution Implementation

Once you have identified the root cause(s) of the problem, develop and execute an action plan to address the issue. Design solutions that specifically target the root cause(s) to eliminate them from your processes, rather than simply addressing the symptoms of the problem. Implement the appropriate changes to your processes or systems and ensure that all stakeholders are aware of these changes.

Follow-up and Monitoring

After implementing the solutions, monitor the results to ensure they are effective in addressing the root cause(s) and preventing the problem from reoccurring. Collect and analyze data regularly to evaluate the impact of the implemented solutions on your organization’s performance. Adjust and refine the solutions if necessary, and maintain ongoing vigilance in order to identify any future problems that may arise from the same root cause(s).

RCA Techniques

The 5 Whys technique is a straightforward method for identifying the root cause of a problem. To employ this approach, you simply ask “why” five times, with each question delving deeper into the issue. The process helps trace the problem to its origin by examining each level of cause and effect. Here’s an example:

  • Why did the machine stop working?
  • Why did the fuse blow?
  • Why did the motor overheat?
  • Why was there insufficient lubrication on the motor?
  • Why was the lubrication schedule not followed?

In this case, the root cause is the failure to adhere to the lubrication schedule.

Learn more: 5 Whys: How to Uncover Root Causes [Examples]

Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram, also known as the Ishikawa Diagram or cause-and-effect diagram, is a visual tool that helps you organize and sort potential root causes. To create a Fishbone Diagram:

  • Write down the problem statement at the head of the fishbone structure.
  • Identify major categories of causes, such as people, process, equipment, and environment. Draw lines connecting them to the problem statement.
  • Assign specific causes under each category and draw smaller lines connecting them to the respective major categories.
  • Analyze the diagram to find trends, patterns, or potential areas of focus.

By organizing information in this way, you can better assess the causes and identify the root cause of the problem.

Learn more: Fishbone Diagram (Components, Factors, Examples) and Ishikawa Diagram: Examples and Applications

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a systematic approach to identify potential failures and evaluate the consequences. FMEA processes typically involve these steps:

  • Identify potential failure modes, which are the ways something could go wrong.
  • Determine the potential effects of each failure mode, and how it could impact the overall system or process.
  • Assign a risk priority number (RPN) to each failure mode, considering factors such as likelihood, severity, and detectability.
  • Develop actions and strategies to mitigate high-risk failure modes.

By using FMEA, you can proactively address possible issues before they escalate, and maintain a more reliable process or system.

Barrier Analysis

Barrier Analysis focuses on preventing problems by examining the barriers in place to control risks. The objective is to identify vulnerabilities in these barriers and develop strategies for improvement. The steps of Barrier Analysis include:

  • Identify hazards and risks associated with your system or process.
  • Define the barriers in place that protect against these hazards.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness, strength, and reliability of each barrier.
  • Identify gaps or weaknesses in the barriers.
  • Develop and implement improvements to strengthen the barriers.

This method provides a clear understanding of how existing safety measures perform and how they can be improved to better protect against potential issues.

See also: 3 Root Cause Analysis Templates (and Examples)

What is Poka-Yoke? [Examples, Principles, Methods]

Benefits of Root Cause Analysis

Quality improvement.

Root cause analysis can significantly enhance the quality of your products or services. By systematically identifying the root causes of issues and implementing corrective actions, you’ll prevent recurring problems and reduce the number of defects. In turn, this will help you maintain customer satisfaction, reduce costs associated with rework or returns, and improve your reputation in the market.

Risk Reduction

Reducing risk is another advantage of root cause analysis. When you identify the underlying causes of problems, you can take necessary measures to eliminate or mitigate those risks. This proactive approach can protect your business from potential losses or disruptions, such as regulatory penalties, customer dissatisfaction, or harm to employees or the environment. By addressing the sources of risk, you can maintain a safer and more profitable business.

Process Optimization

Root cause analysis supports continuous improvement by highlighting inefficiencies and areas for optimization in your operations. By examining your processes beyond the symptoms of a specific issue, you can uncover opportunities to streamline workflows, reduce waste or downtime, and better utilize resources. Implementing these improvements not only resolves the immediate problem but also enhances overall productivity and efficiency in your organization.

To attain the benefits of root cause analysis, apply it consistently and rigorously. Ensure that you involve relevant stakeholders, gather necessary data, and employ a systematic approach to identifying and addressing root causes.

Challenges of Root Cause Analysis

Common pitfalls.

When conducting Root Cause Analysis (RCA), you might face common pitfalls that can reduce the effectiveness of your investigation. Some of these pitfalls include:

  • Rushing the process : It is important to allocate appropriate time and resources to conduct a thorough RCA.
  • Overlooking small details : Make sure to pay attention to all possible contributing factors when investigating a problem. Small details can often hold the key to the root cause.
  • Focusing on blame : RCA should focus on identifying systemic issues and providing solutions rather than blaming individuals or departments.

Addressing Human Factors

Human factors play a critical role in many problems. When conducting RCA, it is crucial to consider the human factors that may have contributed to the issue. Here are some tips to help you address human factors in your RCA:

  • Consider psychological factors : Assess the mental state of the people involved in the incident, including their level of stress, fatigue, and emotions.
  • Evaluate communication and collaboration : Analyze how effectively teams were communicating and working together at the time of the incident.
  • Assess training and competency : Determine if the people involved had the appropriate training and knowledge to handle the situation.

Keep a neutral and non-blaming tone while assessing human factors. The aim is to uncover systemic issues that can be improved upon.

Fishbone Diagram (Components, Factors, Examples)

Ishikawa Diagram: Examples and Applications

  • Advantages of SWOT Analysis (6 Benefits and 4 Limitations)
  • Top Problem Solving Skills for Today's Job Market
  • What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

Project Management Mastering Root Cause Analysis for Effective Problem Solving

Daily Jobs › Project Management

Mastering Root Cause Analysis for Effective Problem Solving

root cause analysis

The first step in any problem-solving process is to identify the problem. It’s a daunting but necessary step that cannot be bypassed even if you don’t know how to solve the problem itself. One of the most effective ways to identify the problem is to conduct a root cause analysis. But what is a root cause analysis, exactly? In this article, we cover everything from root cause analysis and its approaches to how to conduct a root cause investigation effectively.

What Is Root Cause Analysis?

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

When faced with a problem, it can be tempting to only fix the immediate issue and move on as quickly as possible. But if you want to get to the bottom of things and avoid future problems, you need to conduct a root cause analysis. To even begin to understand the process, we first need to define root cause analysis.

❗ What is Root Cause Analysis ?

Root cause analysis is a systematic process for finding the real source of a problem.

Once you’re able to identify the root cause, you can put measures in place to prevent similar issues from happening in the future. You might be thinking,

Root cause example

An example of a root cause might be an IT system failing because someone didn’t update it when they were meant to. Another example is implementing training programs, career advancement paths, and mentorship initiatives to reduce employee turnover.

Once you’ve identified the problem, you can put measures in place to prevent it from happening again—this might involve changes to processes, procedures, or training. It could also require changes to equipment or materials, depending on the nature of the issue. 

✅ The Advantages of Root Cause Analysis

There are several advantages to conducting a root cause analysis. When done correctly, root cause analysis can:

🔮 Prevent future problems Conducting a root cause analysis investigation can help organizations identify and correct the underlying causes of problems, preventing them from recurring in the future.

👨🏽‍🤝‍👨🏼 Improve team communication Conducting root cause analysis investigations can help to improve team members’ communication and help organizations better understand their customers’ needs.

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

⌛ Save time and money Root cause analyses can also save organizations time and money by preventing issues from reoccurring. 

Everhour is the top choice for small businesses and small to mid-size teams of 5 to 50 members, including professionals like software developers, marketers, designers, consultants, lawyers, you name it!

Seamlessly integrating with popular project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Jira, its user-friendly interface and customizable reports make it the ultimate time tracking solution for small and mid-size teams.

With dedicated support ensuring you receive timely assistance, our team is here to help you promptly and with a smile!

💡 Foundation for continuous improvement Additionally, it can help organizations of all kinds build a foundation for continuous improvement by identifying opportunities for process improvements.

🤝 Promotes knowledge sharing  Finally, root cause analyses promote learning and knowledge sharing within an organization by documenting the investigation process and findings.

As long as it is done properly, conducting root cause analysis investigations will help your organization solve problems, promote team communication, encourage knowledge sharing and save you precious time and money which can be spent improving other parts of the business.

❌ Drawbacks of Root Cause Analysis

There are several potential challenges associated with root cause analysis. For example, root cause analysis is:

🙅‍♀️ Time-consuming Root cause analysis investigations can be time-consuming and resource intensive, especially if you’re part of a small organization with a limited budget for such activities. Investigators need to have a good understanding of the problem and the systems involved in order to identify all possible causes. 

🕵️‍♀️ Data access RCA often requires access to data that may be difficult to obtain. If the relevant data isn’t available to the investigators, the investigation may not be able to find the root causes of an issue.

🤹‍♀️ Multiple factors Another challenge with RCA is that it can be a challenge to identify the cause, often because multiple factors contribute to the issue. Additionally, changes in the system or environment can impact the results of an RCA investigation. For example, a change in the production process might eliminate a reported problem but, unfortunately, may introduce new ones that need to be tackled.

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

🤷‍♀️ Recommendations not implementable or meaningful Finally, RCA can sometimes lead to recommendations for changes that are difficult (or, in some cases, impossible) to implement. For example, the recommended changes may be too expensive or disruptive to implement fully, meaning the same issues may continue to occur. In other cases, investigators may not have enough information to make meaningful recommendations for change, limiting the effectiveness of a root cause analysis investigation.

Although root cause analysis has its advantages, in some cases, it may be met with roadblocks such as access to data, challenges identifying the cause due to lots of cause factors, and problems implementing meaningful change after the investigation closes.

Root Cause Analysis Approaches 

The main goal of root cause analysis is to find out the source of a problem. But there’s not just one approach—there are several approaches to root cause analysis: 

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

The 5 Whys is a popular approach to root cause analysis. It involves asking five successive questions about a problem in order to identify its root cause. For example, if a machine is not functioning as it should, the 5 Whys approach would involve asking five successive questions such as ‘why is the machine not working?’, ‘what is causing the machine to not work?’, ‘what are the consequences of the machine not working?’, and so on. By asking these questions, it should be possible to identify root causes and take the necessary steps to fix them.

One of the key advantages of the 5 Whys approach is that it is a relatively simple and straightforward way to identify the root causes of various problems. However, this specific approach may not always be successful in identifying root causes in all scenarios. For example, it may be necessary to ask more than five questions or use other approaches to define a root cause.

Fishbone Diagrams

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

Another popular root cause analysis (RCA) approach is to create a fishbone diagram. This approach helps investigation teams to visualize the relationships between different factors that may have contributed to a problem. They are also sometimes called cause and effect diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams, named after Kaoru Ishikawa, who developed this approach to root-cause analysis.

To create a fishbone diagram:

  • Start by drawing a large bone shape on a piece of paper.
  • Add branches coming off of the main bone, representing different factors that could have caused the problem.
  • For each factor, ask why it may have contributed to the problem.

After adding a range of factors, you’ll likely soon find the source of the problem. 

Fishbone diagrams have their advantages over some other root cause analysis approaches. For example, the technique is relatively straightforward, meaning it’s easy for those who’ve never encountered it before to learn how it works. On the other hand, for complex investigations, fishbone diagrams quickly become messy, and this may lead to confusion.

Change Analysis/Event Analysis

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

Another way to approach root cause analysis is with the change and event analysis method. Change analysis involves looking at how a system or process has changed over time, while event analysis focuses on understanding what happened during a specific incident.

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, but change and event analysis can be used together to get a complete picture of exactly what caused a problem. So if you’re looking to solve a problem and prevent it from happening again, this might be the best method.

Change and event analysis is a great approach because it is conceptually simple, making it easy for those who haven’t encountered it before to grasp. However, it can be resource-intensive compared to other approaches because the results may not be conclusive, meaning investigation teams need to conduct time-consuming testing.

Pareto Charts

A Pareto chart is a simple graphical tool that is used to perform root cause analysis. The charts are useful for identifying the most important factors in a given situation, and they can help you prioritize actions and allocate resources effectively to save precious time and money. 

To create a Pareto chart, you will first need to collect data on the different factors involved in the problem or issue you are investigating. Once you have this data, you can use it to create a bar chart with the different factors on the x-axis and their relative importance on the y-axis.

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

The most crucial factor is typically the one that contributes the most to the overall problem or issue. In most cases, this will probably be quite obvious. However, sometimes it may take time to determine which factor has caused the issue. In these cases, you can use the Pareto principle to help guide your analysis. The principle states that for most events, approximately 80% of the effects come from just 20% of the causes. This means that for many problems, most of the impact comes from a small number of contributing factors.

Applying this principle to root cause analysis can help you focus your attention on the factors with the biggest impact. This will be especially useful when dealing with a complex problem with many different contributing factors, but you have limited time or resources at your disposal.

Pareto charts are favored by many because problems are ranked in severity order, meaning it’s clear to all involved which issues need tackling first. Plus, these charts often provide a more complete explanation of a problem than other root cause analysis approaches. However, Pareto charts need good data to be effective. For this reason, they may not be suitable for teams that cannot access the data they require.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis

Another potential approach is Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), a tool used to identify possible failures in a system or process and determine the impact of those failures. This approach can also be used to develop corrective actions to prevent or mitigate the effects of the failures.

FMEA is typically performed during the design phase of a project, but it can also be used after a problem has occurred to help identify the root cause. When used in an investigation, FMEA can help identify all potential causes of a problem so that they can be explored further.

There are three steps involved in conducting an FMEA:

1. Identify potential failure modes: What could go wrong? 2. Determine the effect of each failure mode: What would be the consequences if this happened? 3. Prioritize corrective actions based on risk: What are the chances of this happening, and how severe would the consequences be?

Conducting an FMEA ensures that all potential causes of a problem are considered during an investigation and that corrective actions are prioritized based on the level of risk involved. This is beneficial because the investigation team can fix problems based on the severity level. However, this approach might not be suitable for all root cause analysis investigations because the method is only as good as the investigation team’s. For example, problems beyond the team’s knowledge may go undetected, meaning the root cause is never identified. 

❓ How To Conduct a Root Cause Investigation

To conduct an effective root cause investigation, there are a few key things to be mindful of:

1️⃣ Establish a clear problem statement

First and foremost, it is vital to establish a clear and concise root cause problem statement—this will help to ensure that the investigation stays focused and on track. A vague problem statement may cause confusion and could drag the investigation out. 

2️⃣ Work in a team

When it comes to conducting root cause analysis, you shouldn’t go it alone, if possible. Whether you’re working with one other colleague or an investigation team, more people will help you spot problems, challenge assumptions and figure out workable solutions. 

3️⃣ Scrutinize (and improve) the process

This probably won’t be the last time you perform root cause analysis. So when you’re conducting the investigation, make sure to identify ways that you can improve the process for next time. Do you need a larger team? Should you pursue a different root cause analysis approach? The root cause problem-solving process won’t be perfect the first time!

4️⃣ Gather data

Gather as much relevant data as possible during root cause investigations. This data can come from a variety of sources, including interviews, observations, records, and documents. 

5️⃣ Verify findings

Once potential root causes have been identified, they should be verified through additional testing and analysis to ensure the investigation team has found the true problem.

6️⃣ Make findings accessible

Once you’ve successfully identified the root cause of the problem, you should make the findings available to all those who might benefit from them. Your RCA analysis might help other colleagues solve problems in the future.

A variation of the process we outlined before can be seen in the picture below. Even though the steps may vary, all in all

what is root cause analysis: the best approaches and how to run an effective investigation

Root cause analysis approaches may seem complicated when encountering them for the first time, but they are practical problem-solving tools that are helpful in various situations. The key to conducting an effective root cause analysis is to work as a team, ask the right questions, and use the information you gather to improve your processes over time. By following any of the approaches outlined above, you can run an effective root cause analysis investigation and help your business or organization avoid future problems.

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solving problems in root cause analysis

Maria Kharlantseva


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What is Root Cause Analysis? Process, Example & Everything You Need to Know

  • Written by Contributing Writer
  • Updated on March 7, 2023

root cause analysis

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving methodology used to identify the underlying cause of a problem, incident, or adverse event. Simply put, it is pinpointing the root of the problem to solve and prevent it from happening again.

When faced with a problem, we usually try to get to the bottom of it. For example, in the unfortunate event that we break our bones, we would be in immense pain. We might take measures to control the pain and blood loss. But our efforts don’t stop at simply having a painkiller and applying a bandage. We rush to the ER as soon as possible, get the necessary treatment to mend the broken bones, and make sure we are careful not to have such an accident.

What we did here is we analyzed the problem: the pain and took steps to fix the root cause, which is the broken bones. Here the pain is the symptom, and the fractured bone is the root cause.

Now that we are familiar with what it stands for let us dive deep into root cause analysis, or RCA, which is the systematic approach employed in various industries like healthcare, manufacturing, governmental organizations, aviation, etc. We also examine its definition, history, benefits, approaches, process, principles, tips, and how to learn more .

Defining RCA Analysis

Root cause analysis is a problem-solving process that seeks to identify the underlying cause of a problem or issue. It’s a systematic approach that goes beyond just identifying symptoms and aims to uncover the root cause of the problem. The objective is to prevent future occurrences of the situation by addressing its root cause.

RCA analysis involves collecting and analyzing data to identify a problem’s underlying cause. The process typically consists of a team of experts who use various tools and techniques to gather and analyze data. Once the root cause has been identified, the team develops a plan to address the root cause and prevent future occurrences of the problem.

Also Read: What Is Process Capability and Why It’s More Interesting Than It Sounds

History of Root Cause Analysis

The origins of root cause analysis can be traced back to the late 19th century when it was used in the manufacturing industry to improve production processes. In the 20th century, it was further developed and applied to a broader range of industries, including healthcare and aviation.

In the 1950s when manufacturers started to use it to understand industrial events. The primary goal of RCA is to determine the fundamental cause of a problem, which is referred to as the “root cause.”

One of the earliest adopters of RCA was Toyota, who employed the “5 whys” method, where the investigation of a breakdown or undesired event is conducted by asking “why” at least five times. This approach forces quality personnel to delve deeper and understand the underlying causes, layer by layer. Today, RCA is widely used in various industries to identify and eliminate problems, improve processes, and prevent recurrence.

RCA was first used in the healthcare industry to address adverse events and improve patient safety. The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) developed the RCA process in the late 1980s, and it quickly became a standard tool for improving patient safety and quality of care.

The Joint Commission, a US-based nonprofit that accredits healthcare organizations and programs, requires a root cause analysis (RCA) to be conducted whenever an accredited hospital experiences a specific type of adverse event. These are known as “sentinel” incidents, as they reveal a dangerous flaw in the care provided and prompt an immediate investigation and response.

RCA was developed in response to the growing number of plane crashes and incidents in the aviation industry. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was established in 1967. It has since been using RCA to investigate plane crashes and incidents to identify their root causes and prevent future occurrences.

Benefits of Root Cause Analysis

Before we go to explore how various industries and organizations benefit from implementing RCA, let us discuss the primary goals of root cause analysis.

The three main goals of RCA are:

  • Identifying the root cause: The first goal is to discover the primary source of the problem or event. This is essential to understand the underlying causes and find practical solutions.
  • Understanding the issues: The second goal of RCA is to fully comprehend the nature of the issues and develop a plan to fix, compensate, or learn from them. This requires a comprehensive analysis of the root cause and the factors contributing to it.
  • Applying learnings: The third goal of RCA is to use the information gained from the analysis to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. This includes making systemic changes to processes and systems and implementing measures to mitigate the risk of future adverse events.

Root cause analysis offers numerous benefits to organizations and industries. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Improving quality: RCA helps organizations identify the root cause of problems and implement solutions to prevent future occurrences, improving quality and efficiency.
  • Reducing risk: Organizations can reduce the risk of future incidents and adverse events by identifying the root cause of the problem and hence improving overall safety and security.
  • Enhancing customer satisfaction: Organizations can better manage their product issues by addressing the root cause of problems. Thus organizations can improve customer satisfaction and trust.
  • Improving organizational learning : RCA provides organizations with a systematic process for learning from problems and incidents, enabling them to improve their processes and procedures continuously.
  • Increasing efficiency and productivity: Organizations can improve their processes and procedures by addressing the root cause of problems, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

Also Read: Demystifying the Theory of Constraints

Top Approaches of Root Cause Analysis

There are several approaches to root cause analysis, each with its unique methodology and tools. Let’s discuss some of the most commonly-used types of root cause analysis.

The 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis

The 5 Whys root cause analysis approach is beneficial for solving simple problems or identifying root causes in a short amount of time. This simple yet effective approach involves asking “why” questions to identify the root cause of a problem. The process is repeated until the root cause is identified. For example, in a service industry setting, in case of a complaint, by asking “why” five times, the team could drill down layer by layer to understand the underlying causes of the problem, such as poor communication, inadequate training, or poor service quality.

Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram is a visual tool that helps teams identify potential root causes of a problem. It is called so because it resembles a fishbone. The fishbone diagram organizes and categorizes possible causes, making it easier to identify the root cause. For example, a fishbone diagram could be used in a manufacturing setting to categorize and analyze the various factors contributing to a machine breakdown, such as equipment design, operator error, or poor maintenance.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis approach uses statistical analysis to identify the most significant root causes of a problem. The Pareto principle states that 80 percent of issues are caused by 20 percent of root causes. Pareto analysis helps teams focus on the most critical root causes, reducing the time and resources required to address the problem. For example, in a healthcare setting, a Pareto analysis could determine that 20 percent of patient falls are caused by 80 percent of the root causes, such as slippery floors, poor lighting, or lack of staff supervision.

Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)

This type of root cause analysis is a graphical representation of the relationships between different system components and how they contribute to a problem or failure. FTA helps teams understand the interdependencies between various components and identify the root cause of a problem. For example, in an aviation setting, an FTA could be used to analyze the interdependencies between different components of a plane, such as the engines, fuel system, and control surfaces, and to identify the root cause of a crash.

Conducting Root Cause Analysis: Process

We can break the process of conducting RCA into the following steps:

  • Define the problem: The first step is clearly defining the problem and understanding what needs to be addressed.
  • Gather data: Once the problem is defined, the next step is to gather data. This involves collecting information about the problem, including date, time, and location, as well as any relevant documentation, reports, or other information.
  • Form a team: The next step is forming a team of experts responsible for conducting the RCA. The team should include individuals with expertise in the problem area, as well as representatives from different departments or parts of the organization.
  • Use a root cause analysis tool: The team should use a root cause analysis tool, such as a fishbone diagram, Pareto analysis, or fault tree analysis, to help identify potential root causes.
  • Identify root causes: Once potential root causes have been identified, the team should use the data and information collected to validate and verify the root causes.
  • Develop solutions: Once the root cause has been identified, the team should develop solutions to address the root cause and prevent future occurrences of the problem.
  • Implement solutions: The final step is to implement the solutions and monitor their effectiveness to ensure that the problem has been fully resolved.

Also Read: Value Stream Mapping in Six Sigma

Root Cause Analysis Principles

Conducting RCA involves following several fundamental principles:

  • Root cause focus: Root cause analysis focuses on discovering and correcting the root causes of a problem rather than just treating the symptoms.
  • Short-term relief: While focusing on root causes is essential, it’s also important to provide short-term relief for the symptoms.
  • Multiple root causes : Multiple root causes can contribute to a problem, so it’s important to identify all of them.
  • No blame: The focus should be on understanding how and why a problem occurred rather than who was responsible.
  • Evidence-based: Root cause claims should be supported by concrete cause-and-effect evidence.
  • Actionable information: The results of the analysis should provide enough information to inform a corrective course of action.
  • Future prevention: Consideration should be given to how the root cause can be prevented from recurring.

Tips for Root Cause Analysis

  • Start with a clear definition of the problem: It is essential to have a crystal-clear understanding of the problem before starting the RCA process. This will help ensure that the team is focused on addressing the right issue and that the root cause is accurately identified.
  • Gather all relevant data: Data is essential for a successful RCA. The team should gather as much relevant data as possible, including the date, time, and location of the problem, as well as all pertinent documentation, reports, or other information.
  • Involve experts from different areas: Involving experts from different areas of the organization, such as operations, maintenance, and engineering, will help ensure that the root cause is accurately identified and that all potential root causes are considered.
  • Use multiple tools and techniques: Different RCA tools and techniques, such as fishbone diagrams, Pareto analysis, and fault tree analysis, can provide different perspectives and insights into the root cause of a problem. The team should consider using multiple tools and techniques to ensure they completely understand the problem.
  • Be thorough and systematic: RCA should be approached systematically, using a structured process and methodology to identify root causes. The team should be detailed and methodical in their approach to ensure that all potential root causes are considered and that the root cause is accurately identified.
  • Focus on prevention: The goal of RCA is not just to identify the root cause of a problem but to prevent future occurrences. The team should focus on developing solutions that will prevent the problem from happening again in the future.

Also Read: Demystifying Kaizen Lean Six Sigma

Master Root Cause Analysis Skills to Become a Lean Six Sigma Expert

For a Lean Six Sigma expert, the ability to identify the underlying causes of problems and develop effective solutions for improving processes and outcomes is a prized skill. As such, you need to understand and know how to perform root cause analysis.

If you’re interested in becoming a Lean Six Sigma expert, an online Lean Six Sigma certification can provide you with the knowledge, skills, and tools you need to succeed in this role.

An online bootcamp like the one delivered by Simplilearn, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, covers the core concepts of Lean Six Sigma, including problem-solving methodologies, process improvement techniques, and statistical analysis tools. This IASSC-accredited program teaches how to identify and eliminate waste, reduce defects, and improve process efficiency across various industries.

With business mentoring from industry experts from KPMG, you’ll be able to tackle real-world business problems confidently. This fast-track program is perfect for quality professionals, business analysts, and executives looking to carve successful careers.

Ready to start your journey toward becoming a master in quality management? Enroll today!

You might also like to read:

Ultimate Guide to Six Sigma Control Charts

DMADV: Everything You Need to Know

Describing a SIPOC Diagram: Everything You Should Know About It

Process Mapping in Six Sigma: Here’s All You Need to Know

How to Use the DMAIC Model?

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Guide to Root-Cause Analysis: Solving Problems at Their Core

solving problems in root cause analysis

Root-cause analysis (RCA) is a crucial problem-solving technique in various fields, including engineering, healthcare, manufacturing, and software development. It involves digging deep to identify the underlying causes of a problem rather than merely addressing its symptoms. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of root-cause analysis and its fundamental principles and provide real-life examples to show how it can be applied effectively.

The Importance of Root-Cause Analysis

Root-cause analysis is essential because it helps organizations and individuals:

  • Prevent Recurrence:  By identifying and addressing the underlying causes of problems, you can prevent them from happening again.
  • Make Informed Decisions:  Understanding the root causes allows for more informed decision-making and the development of practical solutions.
  • Optimize Processes:  RCA helps improve processes by identifying inefficiencies and areas for improvement.
  • Save Time and Resources:  Solving problems at their core can save time and resources in the long run, as it reduces the need for recurring fixes.

Critical Principles of Root-Cause Analysis

To perform effective root-cause analysis, follow these key principles:

  • Define the Problem:  Clearly state the problem you are attempting to solve. Make sure everyone involved has a common understanding of the issue.
  • Collect Data:  Gather relevant data, including facts, observations, and evidence related to the problem.
  • Identify Possible Causes:  Brainstorm and list all possible causes of the problem. Don't jump to conclusions prematurely.
  • Analyze Causes:  Evaluate each potential cause systematically. Use techniques like the "5 Whys" or fishbone diagrams to dig deeper into the issues.
  • Determine Root Causes:  Narrow down the list of causes to identify the root or underlying causes, those that, when addressed, will prevent the problem from recurring.
  • Develop Solutions:  Once you've identified the root causes, brainstorm and develop solutions to address them.
  • Implement Solutions:  Implement the selected solutions and monitor their effectiveness.
  • Prevent Recurrence:  Continuously monitor and evaluate the problem to ensure it doesn't reoccur.

Real-Life Examples of Root-Cause Analysis

  • Healthcare:  A hospital noticed a recurring issue with medication errors. Through root-cause analysis, they discovered that unclear prescription labels were the root cause. They implemented clearer labeling practices and reduced medication errors significantly.
  • Manufacturing:  A manufacturing plant experienced frequent equipment breakdowns, affecting production. After conducting an RCA, they found inadequate maintenance was the root cause. By implementing a proactive maintenance schedule, they minimized downtime.
  • Software Development:  A software company had many customer complaints about software crashes. Root-cause analysis revealed that memory leaks in the code were the underlying issue. The development team fixed the memory leaks, creating a more stable software product.
  • Environmental:  An environmental agency investigated the contamination of a local river. After careful analysis, they determined that an industrial discharge was the root cause. They imposed stricter regulations on the industry, reducing pollution in the river.

Root-cause analysis is a powerful problem-solving technique that helps organizations and individuals resolve issues rather than merely addressing their symptoms. 

By following the fundamental principles of RCA and using real-life examples as inspiration, you can improve your problem-solving skills and make better-informed decisions to prevent issues from recurring. 

Whether you work in healthcare, manufacturing, software development, or any other field, mastering root-cause analysis is a helpful skill that can lead to better outcomes and a more efficient operation.

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What is root cause analysis? A proactive approach to change management

Root cause analysis (RCA) focuses on fostering a proactive approach to solving problems before they happen and eliminating the potential for flaws to reoccur in the future.

Tree roots

Root cause analysis definition

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving process that focuses on identifying the root cause of issues or errors with the goal of preventing them from reoccurring in the future. RCA is typically part of service management methodologies and frameworks, such as ITIL , TQM , and Kanban , that focus on continuous process improvement . This type of analysis can help identify flaws in IT processes, potential security breaches, and faults in business processes.

When a problem is identified and removed, it is considered a “root cause” if it prevents the problem from reoccurring. If, however, a problem is removed and it impacts the event’s outcome, but not in the way intended, then it is a “causal factor.” RCA is typically used to find the root cause of software or infrastructure problems to improve the quality and efficiency of processes, and thereby to save time and money. Every potential cause in a given process is identified and analyzed to ensure the organization is treating the disease, rather than just the symptoms.

Reactive vs. proactive problem management

Reactive management and proactive management are the two main approaches organizations take to repairing issues and solving problems. With reactive management, problems are fixed soon after they occur, often called “putting out fires.” The goal is to act quickly to resolve issues and alleviate any effects of a problem as soon as possible.

Proactive management, on the other hand, aims to prevent problems from reoccurring. It is focused less on quickly solving problems and instead on analyzing them to find ways to prevent them from happening again. That’s where root cause analysis comes in. Its methodology is best suited to support proactive problem management’s goal of identifying and fixing underlying issues, rather than just reacting to problems as they happen.

Root cause analysis steps

While there’s no strict rulebook on how to conduct a root cause analysis, certain guidelines can help ensure your root cause analysis process is effective. The four main steps that most professionals agree are essential for RCA to be successful include the following:

  • Identification and description: Organizations must first identify the failures, errors, or events that triggered the problem in question and then establish event descriptions to explain what happened.
  • Chronology: After identifying these issues, organizations must then create a sequential timeline of events to better visualize the root cause and any contributing causal factors. Here, it’s important to establish the nature of the event, the impact it had, and where and when the problem occurred.
  • Differentiation: Once the sequence of events is established, data involved with a particular issue can be matched to historical data from past analysis to identify the root cause, causal factors, and non-causal factors.
  • Causal graphing: Those investigating the problem should be able to establish key events that explain how the problem occurred and convert that data into a causal graph.

Root cause analysis takes a systematic approach to identifying problems and requires the effort of full teams to properly perform the analysis. Those tasked with the analysis typically work backwards to determine what happened, why it happened, and how to reduce the chances of it happening again. They can trace triggered actions to find the root cause that started the chain reaction of errors in a process to remedy it. These steps help guide the process and give organizations a framework for how to successfully complete a root cause analysis.

Root cause analysis methods

RCA is already baked into several IT frameworks and methodologies as a step for change, problem, or risk management. It’s been established as a proven, effective way to support continuous process and quality improvement. But if you are conducting a root cause analysis outside of a separate process management framework, organizations typically employ the following methods to ensure a successful RCA:

  • Form a team to conduct the RCA and evaluate processes and procedures in the organization that have flaws. This team should be built by bringing together employees who work in relevant business areas or who work directly with the broken processes.
  • Once the analysis begins, it can take upwards of two months to complete. Each step of the process is given equal weight whether it’s defining and understanding the problem, identifying possible causes, analyzing the effects of the problem, or determining potential solutions.
  • Teams should meet at least once per week, if not more often, with meetings being kept to no longer than two hours with a loose agenda. The meetings are intended to be relatively creative, so you want to avoid bogging people down with too much structure.
  • Team members should be assigned specific roles or tasks so everyone has a clear understanding of what they should be investigating.
  • Upon finding a potential solution, it’s crucial to follow up to make sure that the solution is effective and that it’s implemented successfully.

Root cause analysis tools

You don’t need much to conduct a root cause analysis, but there are several tools that are helpful and commonly used to help make the process easier. Commonly used tools to perform an effective root cause analysis include:  

  • Fishbone diagrams: A fishbone diagram is mapped out in the shape of a fishbone, allowing you to group causes into sub-categories to be analyzed.
  • Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA): FMEA is a technique that can be used to map out a system or process and identify the failures within it. It can be used not only to identify flaws but also to map out how often they happen, what actions have already been taken, and what actions have been effective in remedying the issue.
  • Pareto charts: A Pareto chart is a simple bar chart that maps out related events and problems in order of how often they occur. This helps identify which problems are more significant than others and where to focus process improvement efforts.
  • Scatter diagrams: A scatter diagram plots data on a chart with an x and y axis. This is another useful tool for mapping out problems to understand their impact and significance.
  • Fault tree analysis: A fault tree analysis uses Boolean logic to identify the cause of problems or flaws. They are mapped out on a diagram that looks like a tree, where every potential cause is included as its own “branch.”
  • 5 whys analysis: With 5 whys analysis, you will ask the question “why” five times too delve deeper into a problem to develop a clearer picture of its root cause.

Root cause analysis training

While RCA is a part of other frameworks and methodologies, there are training programs and courses designed to focus on helping people better understand how to perform the analysis. If you want to get more training on RCA, here are a handful of programs designed to help:

  • Workhub Root Cause Analysis training
  • Udemy Root Cause Analysis course
  • Pink Elephant Problem Management: Root Cause Analysis Specialist certification course
  • NSF Root cause analysis CAPA training and certification
  • Coursera Root Cause Analysis course
  • ASQ root cause analysis course
  • Lean Six Sigma Root cause analysis online training

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Root Cause Analysis: How to Solve Problems Effectively

solving problems in root cause analysis

Liz Dyrsmid

  • Published: Jan 17, 2023
  • Last updated: Jan 18, 2023

Problems develop inside businesses. There are a wide range of possible causes for this. Only by investigating the causes of these problems can they be resolved permanently.  

You can get to the bottom of a problem and figure out how to fix it by following a procedure known as root cause analysis (RCA) . RCA is different from other methods because instead of just trying to fix the symptoms of a problem, people who use it look into and try to fix its root causes.

It is best not to rush to find a solution to a problem but rather to take one’s time determining why the problem is occurring in the first place. By doing a root cause analysis (RCA), you will learn more about how problem-solving can be done in an effective way.

Reading this article will help you understand how root cause analysis (RCA) can lead to effective problem-solving.

Article Outline

What is root cause analysis.

The phrase “root cause” refers to the main reason for the problem being discussed as well as the first event in the chain of events that led to the problem (or problems).

“Root cause analysis” (RCA) is a term used to describe a wide range of methods, tools, and strategies that are used to figure out where problems come from. When trying to find the “root cause” of a problem, these methods and strategies can be used.

Some root cause analysis methods focus on finding the real causes, while others offer more general solutions to problems or just add to the RCA process.

There are many reasons why a root cause analysis (RCA) might be needed, such as human error, broken physical systems, problems with how an organization works, or any number of other things.

How Do Root Cause Analyses Benefit You?

In order to fix problems and prevent them from happening again, you need to know where they are in your business process. If you use this on a factory line, you can increase output per shift while reducing mistakes at the same time. 

For these reasons and more, identifying and addressing root causes is crucial.

What Root Cause Analysis Can Do or your business (Root Cause Analysis Benefits)

Puts Money Back in Your Pocket

Spend as much time and money as you like on a root cause analysis, and you’ll always come out ahead. This is because your business will always have to deal with the damage and ongoing costs that come from not fixing a problem for good.

Boosts Dependability

To make your business more secure and reliable, conduct a root cause analysis. Quality-focused businesses can benefit from it as well. Reducing the number of errors made during production is one way to win over skeptical customers and increase product reliability.

Helps Avoid Financial Setbacks

Because it provides a framework for developing SOPs , root cause analysis can help businesses gain the public’s trust if they use it to concentrate on prevention. Finding the true cause of a problem will also help you come up with a plan for fixing it.

Common Methods of Root Cause Analysis

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of the methods and approaches that can be used in an RCA. We’ll go over some of the most popular and widely applicable methods below.

The “5 Whys” Method

The 5 whys method of root cause analysis

The method known as “5 Whys” is frequently utilized when attempting to figure out what went wrong. If you get an answer to one of your WHY questions, you should ask another WHY question that is more in-depth.

It is commonly believed that by asking five “why” questions, one should be able to get to the bottom of most problems. However, the truth is that you might only need two questions, or you might need fifty.

When you use the 5 Whys to look into a situation, you can leave any ideas you already have at the door.

Event Analysis Method

Root Cause analysis example the event analysis method

You can also try to determine what caused an event by paying close attention to the things that occurred and how they changed before the event. This is another method for determining what caused an event.

To get started, we would compile a list of every single conceivable cause that led up to an occurrence.

After that, you would go through each individual occurrence and decide whether or not that specific occurrence was a factor that was unrelated to the issue, a factor that was correlated with the issue, a factor that contributed to the issue, or a factor that was likely the root cause.

This is the stage at which the majority of the analysis is performed, and it is also the stage at which other approaches, such as the “5 Whys,” can be utilized.

Last but not least, investigate whether or not the problem can be reproduced and whether or not there is a solution to it.

Fishbone Diagram

root cause analysis 5

Fishbone diagrams, which are also called Ishikawa diagrams , are another common way to show how causes and effects are connected.

The issue is placed in the middle of the diagram (similar to how the spine of the fish skeleton is positioned), and the various causes are placed around the outside (similar to how the rib bones of the fish skeleton are positioned).

We are getting closer to the root of the issue as we investigate both possible causes and root causes and question each offshoot as we investigate.

By using this method, we can eliminate classes that don’t matter while also showing how different causes are linked and where those causes are likely to come from.

How to Effectively Perform Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide

To do a thorough root-cause analysis, you must keep certain guidelines in mind. These guidelines will help you figure out why certain things happen and come up with the best solutions. 

  • Gather information that shows how the causes you identified led to the effects you saw.
  • Construct a comprehensive strategy to support the recommendations you have made.
  • Discover what caused this situation and consider how to prevent it from happening again.

It’s important to keep in mind that problems often have more than one underlying cause.

Conclude with the causes you believe to be most at the heart of the problem, and be ready to take on those causes head-on with effective solutions.

The following are some more tips for performing an effective root-cause analysis

Make it a Team Effort

When you and other people work together, you can see things from a different points of view. The process of problem-solving will move along more quickly if you have access to additional perspectives, whether those perspectives come from a partner or from a group of coworkers. This will also help you avoid being overly biased.

Continually Improve Your Process

The process of root cause analysis is very important to understand well. Notate. Investigate the method of analysis. Check to see if a method or technique is right for your company’s needs and culture.

Examine Your Success

Investigate not only what led to your success but also the factors that contributed to it. Even though root cause analysis is typically used to figure out what went wrong, it can also be used to figure out why something turned out successfully. This is an uncommon application of the technique, but it is possible.

Begin Implementing the Solutions

The RCA process doesn’t produce results right away, but figuring out what caused a problem in the first place leads to a long-term solution. You’ll be asked to put your good solution into action after you’ve developed it.

Start creating workflows to help you put solutions into action. Workflows are a set of activities or steps that are followed to complete a specific task or process.

How workflows help implement solutions

Using workflows to put solutions in place after doing root cause analysis has a number of benefits, such as:

Progress Tracking

Workflows offer a clear and organized way to track the progress of a task or process. This can help you determine whether you are on track and whether there are any delays or obstacles that need to be addressed.

Goal Setting

Workflows can be used to set clear goals and checkpoints for a process or task. This can help to keep the team focused and motivated, as well as provide a way to measure the implementation’s success.


Solving Problems: A workflow makes it easier to find and fix problems by breaking down a task or process into specific steps. This can help avoid delays and make problems less of a problem for the whole project.

Workflows can also make it easier for managers, stakeholders, and team members to see where a task or process is in its lifecycle. This lets them make better decisions about any changes or adjustments that need to be made.

Continuous Improvement

Workflows can be used to monitor performance and identify opportunities for improvement over time. This can help make sure that the implementation is always getting better and more efficient, leading to better results and better solutions.

Overall, using workflows to implement solutions lets you keep track of progress, set clear goals, and work more efficiently to solve problems as they come up and get the desired result.

Your effective solutions need to be put into action, so you should get started right away on developing your workflow .

A root cause analysis (RCA) determines why a problem arises in the first place. Instead of just treating the symptoms of a problem, RCA involves looking into and trying to fix its root causes.

It is important to use the tools and methods that are best for your situation when doing a root cause analysis (RCA). Set up a system for ensuring that the work done at each RCA phase is correct.

Every step of the investigation, from identifying the problem to implementing a solution, should be meticulously documented. By completing an RCA, you will gain a better understanding of how to solve problems effectively.

After developing a decent solution, you’ll need to implement it. Start workflows to implement solutions . Workflows let you measure progress, set objectives, handle obstacles, and reach your goals.

We would love to hear your thoughts on root cause analysis. Have you used this method in your own work? What have been your successes and challenges? Please share your comments below, we would love to hear from you!

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Root Cause Analysis

Used throughout every major industrial and business sector, sologic root cause analysis (rca) is an evidence-based, problem-solving method based on cause & effect logic., what is root cause analysis (rca).

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a structured problem solving method. The aim of RCA is to identify, understand and solve the deeper ‘root causes’ of problems.  RCA is built on the principle that causal relationships exist for all events. By understanding these we can move beyond the symptoms and address the root causes at source .

For many of us, when there is a problem at work, it is difficult to get beyond immediate symptoms, meaning that the underlying causes have not been dealt with and will need fixing time and time again.  A scenario we often refer to as “fire-fighting”.   

The Root Cause Analysis method or ‘RCA’ as it is often abbreviated to, is a widely used technique that helps people get beyond the symptoms of a problem and reveal the, often hidden, and multiple root causes.

There are a variety of Root Cause Analysis processes to choose from, some are quick and easy, such as 5 Whys, others are longer and more complex such as FMEA and Ishikawa. The Sologic RCA methodology is quick to learn, logical and scalable.  It is also universal in that it can be applied to any problem, in any sector .  

Who is responsible for Root Cause Analysis?

Anyone can lead an RCA - especially if they are using the right method and tools. Best practice in RCA shows us that subject matter expertise in the area being investigated is not usually required. An expert Root Cause Analysis training course can ensure your RCA Champions have the skills they need.

The RCA Lead or Facilitator usually assembles the RCA Team and gathers the information required from a variety of sources. They then use this information to determine the three main components of any Root Cause Analysis:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What is required to prevent this problem from happening again?

These investigations may be recorded as individual reports or form part of a formal company-wide RCA Program .  

How to conduct an RCA?

When an incident occurs it’s important that it is understood in a logical, objective and critical manner. To do this successfully we must gather and manage the available evidence.  Once collected in full we can define the problem and record its impacts.  High quality cause and effect analysis adds a deeper understanding, leading to targeted and more effective solutions.  If these are clearly documented and shared an organisation can learn from past failures and prevent future problems.     

What are the steps in Root Cause Analysis?

5 Step Sologic Root Cause Analysis Method


RCA Step 1: Gather and Manage Data

An RCA investigation should be based on facts – making sure the RCA is evidence-based helps ensure accuracy.  High-quality evidence helps ensue your RCA is based on known data, not supposition.   

RCA Step 2: Create a Problem Statement

RCA Problem Statement Template

RCA Step 3: Analyse Cause and Effect

What were the causes of your incident?  Cause and Effect Analysis reveals that actions and conditions are interrelated.  A change in one area creates a change another.  These coincide to create the specific problem you are investigating.   The following common Root Cause Analysis Tools are favoured amongst those looking to conduct an effective visual analysis:   5 Whys   Cause & Effect Diagrams  (Continued Below) Failure Mode & Effects Analysis FMEA Fishbone Ishikawa  Lean / Six Sigma    In practice, the majority Root Cause Analysis specialists prefer the 5 Whys tool for simple problems and Cause and Effect charts for complex problems.  

What is a cause and effect diagram?

Simple cause and effect template diagram

RCA Step 4: Generate Solutions

RCA solutions chart example

RCA Step 5: Complete and Share a Final Report

Once the analysis is complete, we assemble a final RCA report.  The final report is the communication vehicle for a broader audience so that others can recognize and mitigate risks in their areas.  The report also becomes the ‘lesson learned’ document enabling the new knowledge to be shared with future employees. Cause and Effect charts are scalable and transferable. The logic is applicable to small recurrent issues as well as large, one-off, never-events.  Visit our  root cause analysis examples  pages to see examples covering areas such as safety, quality, reliability, operations and compliance.   

How To Make a Simple Cause and Effect Chart

Root Cause Analysis Software  Sologic’s  Root Cause Analysis software tool, Causelink  allows problem-solving professionals to investigate events in a simple, standardized and evidence-based manner. Causelink supports 5 Whys and Cause and Effect charting, encourages the breaking of causal chains and pinpoints the effective solutions that overcome repeat failures.    Further Root Cause Analysis reading

  • Root cause analysis training
  • Root cause analysis ebooks
  • Root cause analysis examples and templates
  • Root cause analysis case studies
  • Root cause analysis in healthcare and nursing
  • Root cause analysis in construction and engineering

solving problems in root cause analysis

Root Cause Analysis: the Art of Solving Problems in Business

Learn all about root cause analysis, including what it is, the different methodologies, and the exact steps to excel in this problem-solving approach.

solving problems in root cause analysis

Are you constantly dealing with the same issues in your business? Putting in the effort and resources to solve a problem only to see it reappear a few weeks or months later?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many managers grapple with frustrating and costly repeat problems.

Fortunately, a framework exists that can help address this issue. It’s called root cause analysis.

Root cause analysis is a problem-solving method that aims to identify the fundamental cause of a problem so that you can create a solution that fixes it for good.

In this article, we’ll give you an in-depth understanding of root cause analysis, including what it is, its benefits, and its common methodologies. Then, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step root cause analysis guide, clear up some common myths, and offer a few essential tips.

With that knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to solve problems once and for all.

Let’s dive in.

Understanding root cause analysis

Let’s discuss what root cause analysis is and explain how it differs from treating the symptoms of a problem.

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis is the process of identifying the underlying issues behind an organizational problem.

Think of it as a detective’s investigation. It’s not asking, “What happened?” but “ Why  did it happen?”

The causes that could be at play include the following:

  • Physical causes: These are tangible issues, like a software bug or a machine breaking.
  • Human causes: These are tied to people’s actions, such as human error, negligence, or lack of training.
  • Organizational causes: These are linked to bigger-picture issues, like operational inefficiencies, policies, or cultural problems.

Looking into root problems is common in many industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, and IT.

Imagine you run a small business, and the business is struggling with late deliveries.

The late deliveries are what’s happening. But the real issue — or root cause — is something different. Here are examples of physical, human, or organizational causes that could be at play:

Physical : Your delivery vehicles are old and unreliable.

Human : Your drivers need better training.

Organizational : Your delivery scheduling system is inefficient.

How do root causes differ from symptoms?

Symptoms are the expression of a problem. They’re not the problem’s origin — rather, they’re the pain points that show you something’s wrong.

Symptoms can include the following:

  • A reduction in productivity
  • An increase in the frequency of errors
  • A customer complaint

‎Root causes, on the other hand, are the hidden factors that drive these visible issues.

For example, losing customers is a symptom. Figuring out  why  this issue is happening leads you to the root cause — which, in this case, might be poor customer service or an inferior product.

Unveiling the benefits of root cause analysis

Root cause analysis is more than a problem-solving method. It’s a strategic approach that enables your business to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of recurring problems.

Essentially, you can work through issues, learn from them, and move forward, which leads to better productivity, fewer roadblocks, and a clearer path to success.

Better efficiency and productivity

Identifying the root cause means you tackle the inefficient processes and broken operations that are bringing about symptoms. That leads to time savings and improved performance.

For example: if a manufacturing plant has too many machine breakdowns from a lack of maintenance, then you need to address the root cause (the lack of maintenance). So, you set up a maintenance schedule to  streamline production  and improve delivery rates.

Fewer recurring problems

Since root cause analysis confronts the problem at its source rather than treating the symptoms, problems are fixed and don’t reoccur. That reduces the time and resources spent on repeat fixes.

Considering that  85%  of C-suite executives believe their organizations are poor at diagnosing problems, mastering root cause analysis could be a game-changer for a lot of companies.

Better bottom line

Root cause analysis does require a time investment, but it’s important to remember that fixing your recurring problem can impact your bottom line, too.

Think about an online retail shop experiencing high return rates. Through root cause analysis, they might determine the cause of this problem is an inaccurate product description.

The business could make a big dent in its return rates by editing the product description on its website — ultimately improving its profit margin.

The methodologies of root cause analysis

There are multiple ways to practice root cause analysis. Each methodology has a set of benefits and best scenarios for use. Let’s look at a few of them below.

The 5 whys methodology is just as straightforward as it sounds.

In it, you ask five “why” questions to drill down to the root cause of a problem.

Let’s play out an example:

Say your website's conversion rate has significantly dropped. We might ask the following 5 whys:

  • Why has the conversion rate dropped ? Because fewer people are clicking the “purchase” button.
  • Why are fewer people clicking the purchase button?  Because they’re abandoning their shopping carts.
  • Why are they abandoning their shopping carts?  Because the checkout process is too complicated.
  • Why is the checkout process too complicated?  Because it’s not intuitive, and there are too many steps.
  • Why are there too many steps, and why isn’t it intuitive?  Because we didn’t consider the user experience when we designed the website.

It may take a bit of time to answer each question effectively. But the 5 whys is a great method for getting under the layers of symptoms to find the root cause.

Fishbone diagram

The fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, is a visual root cause analysis methodology. It helps identify  all  possible causes of a particular problem. It’s most useful for complex issues in which multiple causal factors might be involved.

‎Here’s how it works:

  • The “head” of the fish skeleton is where the problem is stated.
  • The major “bones” of the fish are the cause  categories , such as equipment or infrastructure problems.
  • The “branches” coming out of each bone list the causes within each category.

The fishbone method encourages team brainstorming and provides a clear visual representation of the potential root causes.

For example, if you’re experiencing high turnover, you could create the following categories for the cause of the problem: “work environment,” “compensation and benefits,” and “training.” Then, list the problems within each one until you start to uncover the root causes.

Cause-and-effect matrix

The cause-and-effect matrix is a more complex method. But, like the others, it’s beneficial in certain circumstances.

This method involves listing all possible causes and then ranking them based on their severity and frequency. The result is a prioritized list of potential root causes to investigate.

Think about a small restaurant receiving customer complaints about long wait times. They could list potential causes of this issue, such as being understaffed, cooking too slowly, or having delayed suppliers. Afterward, they’d rank each cause to determine which is affecting wait times the most.

Implementing root cause analyses: a step-by-step guide

Now, we’ll cover the basic steps to executing an effective analysis.

Step 1: Identify the problem

The first step is to clearly define the problem, being as specific as possible.

Step 2: Gather data

Next, gather as much relevant information about the problem as possible.

This could include the following:

  • When the problem started
  • How often the problem occurs
  • The conditions under which the problem happens
  • Who or what the problem affects

The more comprehensive your data is, the better equipped you’ll be to find the root cause of your problem.

Step 3: Identify possible causes

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data, start brainstorming possible causes of the problem you’re experiencing.

Here, you can apply one of the methodologies discussed earlier, such as the 5 whys or the fishbone diagram.

Encourage your team to suggest any cause that comes to mind. That way, you can generate a wide range of possibilities to work from.

Step 4: Determine the root cause

Now it’s time to analyze and identify the root cause of the problem.

‎You may need to conduct more in-depth data analyses, interviews, or observations. Don’t rush this step. It’s vital to confirm that the identified cause is indeed the root cause. If it’s not, the problem will likely continue.

Step 5: Develop and implement a solution

The next step is to develop a solution that addresses the root cause you just discovered.

You want your solution to be action-oriented, specific, and time-bound

Step 6: Monitor the results and make adjustments as needed

You can’t simply put a solution in place and then walk away. Track the solution’s effects, and steer your course where necessary.

Remember to document your root cause analysis process and results. This will not only provide a record for future reference but will also help establish a culture of learning and continuous improvement.

Common objections and misunderstandings

Root cause analysis is a potent tool in the problem-solving toolkit, but it’s not without misconceptions and challenges. Understanding these things can help you more effectively navigate your root cause analysis journey.

Let’s debunk some common myths and offer tips for overcoming potential obstacles.

Myth 1: Root cause analysis isn’t worthwhile

While the root cause analysis method does require effort and time, the potential return on this investment is significant. The time you spend identifying the root cause of a problem can end up saving many hours addressing recurring issues.

Also, not all methods are time-consuming and complex. Techniques like the 5 whys, for instance, can be quick and easy to apply.

Pro tip:  Start with simple root cause analysis techniques, like the 5 whys, and gradually move to more complex ones later if you wish.

Myth 2: Only large organizations benefit from root cause analysis

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Small businesses stand to benefit significantly from a root cause analysis. This technique can help identify inefficiencies and improve business processes, both of which are vital for lean operations and competitiveness.

Pro tip:  Don’t think about the size of your business as much as the complexity of your problem and  the resources  you have available.

Myth 3: Root cause analysis  always  reveals one clear cause

Some problems can have multiple root causes, and it’s essential to address all of them to find a comprehensive solution.

‎ Pro tip:  If you think your problem has multiple causes, try the fishbone diagram analysis. It’s great for getting a multifaceted view of the issue.

Embracing root cause analysis as a proactive tool

As with many business strategies, there are ways to go deeper with root cause analysis. Here are some points to keep in mind:

It’s not just for problems

While root cause analysis does solve problems, it can also help you understand why things are going  well  when they do.

This can be valuable for scaling success.

For instance, if you find one of your marketing campaigns to be particularly successful, a root cause analysis could help identify the reason(s) behind that success. You could then replicate those factors in future campaigns.

It can reveal deeper organizational issues

Root cause analysis can bring systemic issues to light.

What might seem like a standalone problem could really be an indicator of underlying organizational challenges, such as communication gaps or inadequate training.

Don’t be afraid to go in-depth with your analysis to find bigger problems at the organizational level. While these issues can be troubling to find, think of them more as an opportunity.

It can foster a culture of continual learning and improvement

Root cause analysis encourages teams to investigate problems.

Rather than patching up issues superficially, you can create a culture in your organization that asks, “ Why  is this happening?”

This mindset can go beyond simple problem-solving to have far-reaching benefits.

Level up your problem-solving with Motion

Root cause analysis is an incredibly powerful tool for any organization. It’s not just about troubleshooting — it’s about addressing your business’s challenges at their source.

Motion can eliminate many scheduling and task management issues before they even arise. Our advanced calendar can streamline your project and task management.

Take your problem-solving to the next level using Motion’s AI software. Sign up for our  7-day free trial  today!

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5 Root Cause Analysis Tools for More Effective Problem-Solving

Paul Foster Square Scaled Resized

Next to defining a problem accurately, root cause analysis is one of the most important elements of problem-solving in quality management. That’s because if you’re not aiming at the right target, you’ll never be able to eliminate the real problem that’s hurting quality.

So which type of root cause analysis tool is the best one to use? Manufacturers have a range of methods at their fingertips, each of which is appropriate for different situations. Below we discuss five common root cause analysis tools, including:

  • Pareto Chart
  • Fishbone Diagram
  • Scatter Diagram
  • Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Download our free Root Cause Analysis 101 Guidebook

1. pareto chart.

A Pareto chart is a histogram or bar chart combined with a line graph that groups the frequency or cost of different problems to show their relative significance. The bars show frequency in descending order, while the line shows cumulative percentage or total as you move from left to right.

Pareto Chart of Failures by Category

The Pareto chart example above is a report from layered process audit software that groups together the top seven categories of failed audit questions for a given facility. Layered process audits (LPAs) allow you to check high-risk processes daily to verify conformance to standards. LPAs identify process variations that cause defects, making Pareto charts a powerful reporting tool for analyzing LPA findings.

Pareto charts are one of the seven basic tools of quality described by quality pioneer Joseph Juran. Pareto charts are based on Pareto’s law, also called the 80/20 rule, which says that 20% of inputs drive 80% of results.

Learn how to create Pareto charts in this post or download the Pareto Chart Tip Sheet and Sample Excel File

The 5 Whys is a method that uses a series of questions to drill down into successive layers of a problem. The basic idea is that each time you ask why, the answer becomes the basis of the next why. It’s a simple tool useful for problems where you don’t need advanced statistics, so you don’t necessarily want to use it for complex problems.

One application of this technique is to more deeply analyze the results of a Pareto analysis. Here’s an example of how to use the 5 Whys:

Problem: Final assembly time exceeds target

  • Why is downtime in final assembly higher than our goal? According to the Pareto chart, the biggest factor is operators needing to constantly adjust Machine A
  • Why do operators need to constantly adjust Machine A? Because it keeps having alignment problems
  • Why does Machine A keep having alignment problems? Because the seals are worn
  • Why are Machine A’s seals worn? Because they aren’t being replaced as part of our preventive maintenance program
  • Why aren’t they being replaced as part of our preventive maintenance program? Because seal replacement wasn’t captured in the needs assessment

Of course, it may take asking why more than five times to solve the problem—the point is to peel away surface-level issues to get to the root cause.

Learn more about the 5 Whys method in this blog post or download our free 5 Whys worksheet

3. Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram sorts possible causes into various categories that branch off from the original problem. Also called a cause-and-effect or Ishakawa diagram, a fishbone diagram may have multiple sub-causes branching off of each identified category.

Example of Fishbone Diagram-EASE

Learn more about how to use a fishbone diagram in this blog post and download our free set of fishbone diagram templates

4. Scatter Plot Diagram

A scatter plot or scatter diagram uses pairs of data points to help uncover relationships between variables. A scatter plot is a quantitative method for determining whether two variables are correlated, such as testing potential causes identified in your fishbone diagram.

Making a scatter diagram is as simple as plotting your independent variable (or suspected cause) on the x-axis, and your dependent variable (the effect) on the y-axis. If the pattern shows a clear line or curve, you know the variables are correlated and you can proceed to regression or correlation analysis.

Download a free tip sheet to start creating your own scatter diagrams today!

5. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a method used during product or process design to explore potential defects or failures. An FMEA chart outlines:

  • Potential failures, consequences and causes
  • Current controls to prevent each type of failure
  • Severity (S), occurrence (O) and detection (D) ratings that allow you to calculate a risk priority number (RPN) for determining further action

When applied to process analysis, this method is called process failure mode and effects analysis (PFMEA). Many manufacturers use PFMEA findings to inform questions for process audits , using this problem-solving tool to reduce risk at the source.

No matter which tool you use, root cause analysis is just the beginning of the problem-solving process. Once you know the cause, the next step is implementing a solution and conducting regular checks to ensure you’re holding the gain and achieving sustainable continuous improvement.

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6 Powerful Problem-Solving Root Cause Analysis Tools

Sarah Burner

ClickUp Contributor

February 13, 2024

When solving problems, you either take a proactive approach or a reactive one. Proactive: address the underlying causes of the issue to avoid future challenges. Reactive: respond to issues as they come.

For many project managers, getting at the root cause of an issue before it derails an entire project is key. You’ll save time, money, and valuable resources where they matter most. Plus, you develop insights to build better processes for smoother workflows. 

To nail down what’s at the heart of an issue, you need root cause analysis. 👀

In this article, we’ll share ten of the best root cause analysis tools and techniques. We’ll dive into what root cause analysis is and how to choose the right tools for your business. 

How to choose the right root cause analysis tool for a specific problem 

2. intelex root cause analysis software, 3. apache skywalking, 4. taproot®, 5. appdynamics from cisco, 6. sologic root cause analysis software, pareto chart, fishbone diagram, scatter plot diagram, what is root cause analysis .

Root cause analysis is the process of examining the source of an issue using various techniques and tools. It’s ideal for solving complex problems and helps teams create and prioritize solutions for better quality control and seamless processes.

There are several steps in the process, including: 

  • Describing the existing issue
  • Analyzing metrics and collecting data
  • Identifying potential causes
  • Brainstorming solutions
  • Taking corrective action
  • Observing changes and performance

ClickUp Whiteboards product template view

Root cause analysis is a key component of quality management because its goal is to get to the heart of an issue and what’s causing it. That way, you prevent similar problems from arising and causing havoc on a project.

The benefit of root cause analysis is that it allows you to examine potential issues at their core. Plus, it’s designed to assess the issue as well as the solutions as you implement them.

As you gather valuable data on the problems your business faces and the effectiveness of the solutions you try out, you learn how to improve processes every step of the way. The result is a more efficient and successful business that’s able to adapt to whatever comes next. 🤩

You’ll find plenty of tools and methods designed to make root cause analysis easier and streamline the overall process. Luckily, there are also a number of free options in addition to paid analytics tools on the market to gather insights into the cause of the problem.

Of course, not all tools are equally effective. Some are meant to help brainstorm ideas for solutions. Others are designed to dive into metrics to track issues and nail down what’s behind them. And some are complete process software tools designed to integrate into your daily work. 🛠️

Want effective root cause analysis? Here’s what to look for in different tools and techniques:

  • Integrations : RCA is best when done collaboratively. Look for tools that let you work with team members to break down problems
  • Data tools : You can’t figure out what’s wrong without diving into metrics. Choose a tool that lets you collect data to inform the process
  • Specific actions : It’s not enough to know what’s causing a problem. You need a tool that lets you take specific actions, like instantly assigning remedial tasks

6 Best Root Cause Analysis Tools in 2024

Ready to figure out what’s at the root of your problem? With these six best root cause analysis tools and techniques, you’ll have what you need to break down an issue. From integrated software tools to free methods, there’s something for everyone. 💪

ClickUp is an all-in-one project management software designed to centralize your work across apps into one collaborative platform. With a rich set of dynamic features to streamline any workflow, teams rely on ClickUp to drive productivity, reduce downtime, and make processes more efficient. 

One of the first steps in root cause analysis is to describe the problem. With ClickUp Whiteboards , teams can take a visual approach to this step. With live cursors, actionable tasks, embedding, and more, teams can work collaboratively to identify the root cause and present metrics that support their ideas. 

The next step is to collect data. Use metrics to truly see what’s driving the issue. With ClickUp Forms , you can survey customers and employees to find out what problems are present and what may be causing them. These Forms are completely customizable, letting you collect the specific data you need. Plus, they’re easy to share, allowing you to cast a wide net to gather as much information as possible.

Once you’re in the analysis stage, ClickUp’s Table view will be your best friend. Create spreadsheets in seconds and design visual databases of information. Use these views to analyze your data and lay the groundwork for next steps to correct the problem. 🤩

ClickUp best features

  • ClickUp AI features hundreds of tools for various use cases, identifying issues and brainstorming solutions
  • Use Docs from ClickUp to easily document your RCA process and keep track of important insights and potential next steps
  • More than 1,000 templates, including ClickUp’s Root Cause Analysis Template , make it easy to do your work faster and more efficiently

ClickUp limitations

  • Right now, ClickUp AI writing tools are only available on desktop, but mobile rollout is on the way
  • The sheer number of features requires some time to learn, but once you do, you’ll be able to create more powerful processes

ClickUp pricing

  • Free Forever
  • Unlimited : $7/month per user
  • Business : $12/month per user
  • Enterprise : Contact for pricing
  • ClickUp AI is available on all paid plans for $5 per Workspace member per month

ClickUp ratings and reviews

  • G2 : 4.7/5 (2,000+ reviews)
  • Capterra : 4.7/5 (2,000+ reviews)

Intelex Root Cause Analysis product example

The Root Cause Analysis Software from Intelex is a SaaS tool designed to help companies create better environment, health, safety, and quality (EHSC) procedures. It uses various methodologies to get to the root cause of the problem.

Start by recording incident data in the tool where everyone on the team can access and analyze the information. Next, use methodology tools like Ishikawa diagrams and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to identify trends.

Intelex best features

  • Integrated RCA techniques, including 5 whys, checklists, and gap analysis, make it easy to assess problems in one space
  • Workflow tools feature integrations to identify the root causes of problems outside your organization when they occur
  • Custom dashboards and reporting make sharing insights with various team members easier than ever

Intelex limitations

  • Some users felt the tool was rigid and that data collection features could be more insightful
  • The user interface isn’t the most friendly, particularly for beginners

Intelex pricing

  • Free: seven-day trial
  • Custom : Contact for pricing

Intelex ratings and reviews

  • G2 : 4/5 (10+ reviews)
  • Capterra : N/A

Root cause analysis tools: Apache Skywalking's services stats dashboard

Apache Skywalking is an application performance management (APM) tool designed to identify issues in software tools. Specifically made for microservices, cloud, and Kubernetes applications, this tool is useful for software engineers in charge of tech teams. 👨🏽‍💻

Apache Skywalking best features

  • Profile codes on runtime using the built-in root causes analysis features that identify the exact point where issues develop
  • Performance optimization tools let you create continuous improvement processes to better meet customer needs
  • In-depth metrics get to the heart of the problem, so your team can brainstorm solutions

Apache Skywalking limitations

  • The complex interface may be intimidating, particularly for entry-level team members
  • Some found the tool was better suited for smaller-scale projects 

Apache Skywalking pricing

  • Free (open source tool)

Apache Skywalking ratings and reviews

Bonus: Check out The Best Open-Source Project Management Tools in 2024

TapRoot product example

TapRooT® is a software tool designed to identify and fix problems caused by both equipment and humans. Use this tool to collect evidence of the issue, identify the cause and effect of various actors, and develop fixes.

TapRooT® best features

  • Processes are differentiated based on whether it’s a simple incident or a major accident, so you react accordingly
  • The Corrective Action Helper® Guide/Module leads you through potential solutions and makes implementation faster
  • Charts and graphs organize data so it’s easier to identify trends

TapRooT® limitations

  • Some users found the pricing to be high
  • The tool is extremely in-depth, making it a better choice for big businesses 

TapRooT® pricing

  • Contact for pricing

TapRooT® ratings and reviews

Root cause analysis tools: AppDynamics from Cisco's Dashboard and Reports page

AppDynamics is a tech tool from Cisco that’s designed to identify the root causes of issues across your business. Use it to break down problems in software, applications, user experience, and overall business health. The tool lets you gain visibility, gather data, and automate solutions. 📚

AppDynamics best features

  • Extensive supported technologies, including Apache, Python, and Docker
  • Monitoring and migration tools make implementing solutions faster
  • Application flow maps let you pinpoint the exact moment issues arise

AppDynamics limitations

  • A steep learning curve means you have to allocate resources to get the team up to speed
  • Complicated licensing and limited data security features

AppDynamics pricing

  • Infrastructure Monitoring Edition : $6/month/CPU Core
  • Premium Edition : $60/month/CPU Core
  • Enterprise Edition : $90/month/CPU Core
  • Enterprise Edition for SAP® Solutions : $167/month/CPU Core
  • Real User Monitoring : $0.06/month per 1,000 tokens

AppDynamics ratings and reviews

  • G2 : 4.3/5 (300+ reviews)
  • Capterra : 4.5/5 (30+ reviews)

Sologic product example

Causelink® is Sologic’s RCA tool. It uses techniques like 5 whys, fishbone diagrams, and incident timelines to pinpoint the root cause of a problem. Use it as an individual, team, or enterprise tool based on the size of your business.

Sologic best features

  • Virtual RCA training features make it easy to provide professional development opportunities for all team members 
  • Multiple built-in techniques let you analyze data in ways that make the most sense for your business
  • The built-in five-step method takes the guesswork out of RCA

Sologic limitations

  • Since the tool features built-in methodologies, there isn’t as much customization as with other tools
  • Pricing can be expensive, making it harder for small businesses to use

Sologic pricing

  • Causelink® Individual : $384/year
  • Causelink® Team : Contact for pricing
  • Causelink® Enterprise : Contact for pricing

Sologic ratings and reviews

  • G2 : 4/5 (1+ reviews)

Root Cause Analysis Techniques

A major benefit to using root cause analysis tools is that they’re designed to help teams integrate proven techniques into their daily processes. There are a ton of ways to get to the root of a problem, especially when you consider the range of issues teams face across industries.

If you’re searching for a new strategy or wondering what root cause analysis technique will best fit your team’s needs, start here with a few of our favorite examples:

Also called Pareto analysis, this RCA tool is a simple bar chart that ranks data based on frequency. It’s useful for identifying problems that cause the most downtime and highlighting where you should focus your efforts. The main purpose of a Pareto Chart is to separate minor problems from major ones. Teams turn to Pareto charts and analysis to:

  • Simplify the problem-solving process 
  • Look for a singular cause to hone in on the root issue
  • Highlight the most commonly felt problems

The 5 Whys method is an investigative tool that’s much like a child repeatedly asking, “Why?” 🤔

That might be frustrating in other areas of life, but it’s great for root cause analysis because it pushes you to consider what’s behind a problem.

This tool isn’t meant for quantitative analysis; it’s more for a qualitative approach to finding out what’s behind an issue. It’s a mental exercise that limits your focus on one potential issue and encourages you to identify multiple contributors to that problem. The idea is to ask why-type questions about the problem to understand what’s wrong and why it may not be working.

This root cause analysis method is named for the shape of the diagram. It’s a process that breaks down problems into subcategories like machine, method, and materials. 🐟

Use fishbone diagram templates when you have no idea what’s behind the issue and need to do a big brainstorm. This strategy can be used for both simple and complex problems by breaking down each subcategory further and further until you nail down the root cause.

A scatter diagram helps you analyze the correlation of two sets of data. An independent variable (or potential cause) is plotted on the x-axis, while a dependent variable (the observed effect) is plotted on the y-axis. If the dots are grouped to create a line, this means there is a relationship between the two.

By clearly identifying the cause and effect based on data, you can implement solutions quickly and efficiently—even when using data points that may initially seem unrelated to each other.

Identify and Solve Problems With ClickUp

With these root cause analysis tools and methods, finding the problem and creating solutions is easier than ever. Choose one tool or mix and match a few depending on your business needs.

Sign up for ClickUp today to start gathering metrics, identifying problems, and creating solutions in your processes. With AI insights, Whiteboards, and Forms, quickly brainstorm ideas on what’s behind the issue and work collaboratively with your team. 

Once you identify the problem, ClickUp makes it easy to instantly assign tasks and create a schedule for implementing solutions. 🏆

Questions? Comments? Visit our Help Center for support.

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INCOSE Los Angeles July Meeting: Problem Solving & Root Cause Analysis

Jul 11, 2023 12:00 AM - 1:00 AM Pacific Standard Time

  • Google Calendar

5:30pm   Sign-In, Networking 6:00pm  President's Introduction 6:15pm   Speaker Presentation 7:15pm    Questions 7:30pm   Meeting Close

Since retiring from active duty, Mr. Willard has spent over twenty years in executive and leadership positions in the defense industry and as Professor of Program Management at the Defense Acquisition University, Western Region, San Diego, CA

  • 7670 Opportunity Rd, Ste. 220 San Diego, CA 92111-2222  USA
  • 1-858-541-1725
  • [email protected]


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  21. 6 Powerful Problem-Solving Root Cause Analysis Tools

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  22. Root Cause Analysis (pdf)

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