Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

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Root Cause Analysis

What is a Root Cause Analysis (RCA)?

Root cause analysis is the process for problem-solving that aims at identifying the root causes of problems or incidents, a malfunction, error or oversight. This is so the situation can be addressed and the recurrence of any problem can be minimised. The root cause analysis process is based on the principle that problems can best be solved by correcting their root causes as opposed to other methods that focus on addressing the symptoms of problems.

Practices of root cause analysis

The practices can vary a great deal depending on business and industry. They also vary by category, such as health and safety, manufacture and production, process or systems failure. The root cause analysis is ultimately focussed on the human element, because of our primary role in the creation operation and adaptation of everything we do. Root cause analysis is also a very useful tool in resolving any conflict, relationship breakdown, conscious and unconscious bias. Although this tool can also be used for continuous improvement by being applied to what already works.

Root Cause Analysis

Used for the first time

When it’s used for the first time, it’s a reactive way of identifying and solving a problem. Therefore, it means that an analysis is performed after a problem or incident has already occurred. By gaining experience with root cause analysis, its uses can change from reactive to proactive, so that problems can be anticipated in time.

Despite the fact that there seems to be no clear definition of the differences in objectives among various approaches, there are some common principles that can be considered to be universal. 

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Here are the basic steps to address and the corrective measures that will lead to the true cause of the problem.

1). Define the problem: What happened, where and when it was identified, when it started and how much is significant?

2). Understanding the process: The steps in the process that should have been carried out before the problem was discovered?

3). Identify the possible causes: If things do not go as planned, which of the process steps could have caused the problem?

4). Collect data: What information could indicate the possible causes actually occurred in to create the problem?

5). Analyse the data: Which data indicate the possible causes that contributed or not?

6). Identify possible solutions: Are there any changes that could prevent these processes from failing in the future?

7). Select solutions: Out of the possible solutions identified which would be the most practical?

8). Implement solutions: Plan and execute the selected solutions.

9). Evaluate the effects: Have the solutions been implemented and have they worked?

10). Institutionalise the change: Update guidelines and tools in order to ensure future projects follow the improved processes.

Steps 1 to 5 are generally repeated or performed cyclically until the causes are found and proven. Of course, it is not necessary to perform this level of investigation and action for every problem that occurs. Some well-known root cause analysis techniques and tools are listed below:

Barrier analysis – This root cause analysis technique is often used in the industrial sector.

Current Reality Tree – A complex but powerful method based on representing causal factors in a tree-like structure.

Change analysis – The research methodology is often used for problems or accidents and demonstrates how the problem has presented itself from different perspectives.

The 5 whys – 5 whys analysis makes it relatively simple to find out what the root cause of the problem is.

Fishbone diagram – This is a much-preferred method of project managers to perform a root cause analysis.


In conclusion, it will not always be necessary to use a root cause analysis to solve every problem in a project. There is always a tendency for an individual to try to investigate and solve the problem without help. A single individual will hardly know all of the processes enough to be able to evaluate them effectively. In the rush to solve problems, people will quite often make assumptions about the causes or solutions to a problem, without having the right data to support them. This could lead to further problems down the line. This is where a root cause analysis can help managers. By ensuring that the correct and adequate information is available and what decisive actions they are able to take.

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