Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of examining a problem and eliminating it from the source, instead of just treating the symptoms. It’s a part of a more general problem-solving process and an integral part of continuous improvement.
RCA helps businesses prevent recurring problems and boost productivity. There are a few important rules that guide effective root cause analysis:
- Focus on correcting or eliminating root causes rather than just symptoms.
- In many cases, treating symptoms becomes necessary for short-term relief.
- There can be multiple root causes.
- Focus on WHY and HOW the problem occurred, not WHO was responsible.
- Provide detailed data to inform a corrective course of action.
- Plan how similar problems can be avoided in the future.
There are tons of tools for efficiently performing a root cause analysis. In this article, we have mentioned the eleven best tools and techniques used in various industries ranging from manufacturing and information technology to telecommunications and healthcare services.
We have also listed some RSA templates that analysts can use to create a good problem statement, collect relevant data, effectively detect the root cause, and implement lasting solutions. Let’s start with the root cause analysis tools first.
1. The 5 Whys
The simplest way to determine the root cause of a problem
The five whys is an iterative interrogative method used to analyze the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a specific problem. It doesn’t require any kind of statistical analysis.
By repeatedly asking the question “Why,” one can peel away the layers of symptoms that can ultimately lead to the root cause of an issue. Although the method is called “five whys,” one may need to ask fewer or more than 5 questions to find the core issue related to a problem.
The answers must be based on facts and data. And you should always assess the process, not the people. The more you break down your answers, the better the results will be.
This technique was developed by Sakichi Toyota, a Japanese inventor and industrialist. Today, it is widely used as part of applying lean methodologies to solve problems, reduce costs, and improve quality.
The five whys can be used to solve simple to moderately difficult problems, especially if problems involve human factors or interactions.
Like any other tool, the Five Whys has its limitations. For instance,
- It cannot be applied to more complex problems
- Investigators cannot go beyond their current knowledge. They cannot identify causes that they do not already know.
- Investigators may stop at symptoms instead of going on to lower-level root causes.
- Different people applying Five Whys may come up with different causes for the same problem.
2. Pareto Analysis
80% of problems can be traced to 20% of the causes
Pareto Analysis is a decision-making technique for assessing a set of problems and measuring the impact of correcting them.
The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) is named after an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. It states that for many outcomes, about 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.
While ahead of its time, this principle was later found to apply in almost every field.
- 80% of all software bugs can be found in 20% of program modules
- 80% of defective parts come from 20% of vendors
- 80% of the company’s revenue is generated by 20% of its products
- 80% of the work in a firm is completed by 20% of its employee
The Pareto Analysis identifies the tasks or problem areas that will have the biggest payoff. Once the defective elements are addressed, the majority of cause for concern will be eliminated.
Pareto analysis is helpful when multiple causes are contributing to a single effect (a problem). It is used in various departments and different sectors of a business and organization.
The analysis involves assigning each problem a specific numerical score based on the level of impact on the business. The higher the score, the greater its impact. Companies can allocate resources to issues with higher scores to solve problems more efficiently.
3. Fishbone Diagram
Break down causes that potentially contribute to a specific problem
A Fishbone diagram can help in brainstorming to detect potential causes of a problem. It can also help you sort ideas into useful categories. It’s a more structured method compared to other techniques available for brainstorming causes of a problem.
Fishbone diagrams were first created by Kaoru Ishikawa in the 1960s. They were used as a basic tool for quality control at the University of Tokyo. Today, they are widely used as a visual way to look at cause and effect. Common uses include product design and quality defect prevention.
In a diagram, the effect or problem is displayed at the mouth of the fish. Potential causes are added on the smaller “bones” under different cause categories. More specifically, each cause for defect is a source of variation. Causes are clustered into main categories to detect and classify these sources of variation.
This type of diagram can help you identify causes that might not otherwise be considered by looking at the categories and thinking of alternative causes. However, to achieve fruitful results, you must involve members who have detailed knowledge of the systems and processes involved in the event to be investigated.
While the diagram shows you all causes simultaneously, it might become visually cluttering when analyzing complex defects. In most cases, interrelationships between causes aren’t easily identifiable.
4. Fault Tree Analysis
Utilize Boolean logic to determine the cause of the problem
Fault Tree Analysis is a graphical tool for identifying potential causes of system-level failures. It uses the concept of Boolean logic, which allows the creation of series of True/False statements. When these statements are connected via a chain, they form a logic diagram of failure.
Events are arranged in sequences of parallel relationships (“OR”) or series relationships (“AND”). Outcomes for each event are displayed in an acyclical graph using logic symbols that show dependencies among events.
This top-down approach can be used to analyze a specific accident in detail, point out the logical relationship between faulty modules, and mitigate the risk before it occurs.
The tool is suitable for all kinds of system-level risk assessment processes. Today, it is widely used in pharmaceutical, aerospace, petrochemical, and software engineering for debugging purposes. It ensures that the complex systems operate safely and reliably.
Fault Tree Analysis is a binary system, which means a hypothesis is either validated or not. This makes the tool too rigid for assets with conditional or partial failures. And since it is not always possible to determine the probability of failure, Fault Tree Analysis cannot be considered a good quantitative tool.
5. Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
Analyzes potential reliability problems early in the development cycle
FMEA involves reviewing as many components, subsystems, and assemblies as possible to find weak links in a system and their causes and effects. For every component, the weak link (or failure mode) and its impact on the overall system is recorded in a particular FMEA worksheet. In many cases, such worksheets have several variations.
FMEA was developed in the late 1950s to examine the potential problems caused by defects in military systems. It was one of the earliest highly structured, systematic methods for analyzing failure in complex systems. It could be both quantitative and qualitative analysis.
FMEA is used to study modules for potential failures and to prevent them by correcting the underlying processes proactively instead of reacting to events after failures have occurred.
It is used when a product, process, or service is being redesigned (after quality function deployment) or being implemented in a new way. It is also used before creating control plans for a new or modified process.
FMEA should not be used as an alternative for good engineering. Instead, it enhances good engineering by applying the knowledge of experienced team members to assess the risk of system failure.
6. 8D Report Template Checklist
Thoroughly structure a solution for a particular issue
The 8D report template is used to document a detailed root-cause analysis based on eight disciplines of solving problems, which are
- List team members
- Briefly describe the problem
- Develop a containment plan
- Identify root cause and escape points
- Formulate corrective actions
- Implement corrective actions
- Develop preventive measures
- Recognize the team efforts
This model aims to eradicate the problem, not its symptoms. It addresses the escape point,” which was supposed to detect the issue but failed. Analyzing escape points in an 8D form helps team members spot the flaws in safety measures and make the system more reliable.
8D report templates are widely used within industries where the supplier is directly influenced by customer feedback. This can be the automotive, mechanical engineering, hardware manufacturing, healthcare, and aviation industry.
7. DMAIC Template
The data-driven method used to systematically improve the process
This is a structured approach to fix errors and improve processes. Short for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, DMAIC is a five-step process that allows teams and wider businesses to detect issues and develop effective solutions.
This streamlined approach was developed as part of the Six Sigma initiative to optimize the processes that produce the output. It is popular because it is repeatable and easy to understand.
Unlike other tools, DMAIC provides quantifiable evidence that improvements are working. During the first phase, the team develops a specific definition of the problem or goal. During the second phase, data is collected and existing processes are documented.
The Analyze phase aims to identify the root cause of the problem. The root causes are often listed and prioritized to pursue in the next phase. The corrective actions performed in the Improve phase lead to positive changes in the components described in the Measure phase. The final phase is about sustaining the changes made in the Improve phase.
Overall, the DMAIC template is a great tool for project managers and innovation teams to drive significant improvements in an organization.
8. Quick Retrospective Template
Discuss current problems and goals, brainstorm new ideas
The quick retrospective template makes it easy for team members to ask relevant questions, discuss current problems, identify the root cause of problems, and plan actions to keep moving forward.
The major benefit of any retrospective template is that it looks organized and every member can add his/her point of view. It gives equal power to all team members to open up and present what’s on their minds.
For better results, all points should be written objectively and kept solution-oriented.
9. Intelex – Root Cause Analysis Software
Captures all incidents in a single solution
Intelex delivers a comprehensive SaaS (Software as a Service) solution that includes all the tools and methodologies required to detect, fix, and prevent problems in products and services. It is integrated with numerous useful tools such as basic checklists, Five-Whys, Fishbone, and Gap Analysis.
The platform simplifies the root cause analysis process by capturing every incident and cause analysis data in a single dashboard, where it can be easily examined, reported, and shared with third-party tools.
It can examine various factors that could lead to a problem and combine them with historical data, giving you valuable insights into trends that guide corrective and preventive actions.
Intelex is used by thousands of businesses to implement preventive measures across all areas of operations, including engineering, health and safety, and quality.
10. Apache SkyWalking
An analysis platform and application performance management system
Apache SkyWalking is an open-source application performance monitoring tool designed for microservices, cloud-native, and container-based architectures.
It allows you to track system health and visualize how interdependent services are operating. This is useful for large companies that have several subsystems running hundreds of services and thousands of instances.
SkyWalking can help you identify which subsystem is underperforming, why and where a request is slow, and understand the links between different subsystems and their operations.
The platform has three main features: metrics, logs, and tracing. Metrics provides useful data on software performance, such as average response time and throughput. There are options to add custom metrics via a simple yet powerful user interface. Logs display a set of events, error messages, or warnings. Tracing gives you insights into the event behavior, so you can track requests from start to finish and detect system faults.
A full-stack, business-centric AIOps platform
AppDynamics allows developers to prevent digital performance issues by monitoring traditional infrastructure and cloud-native technologies. It makes it easy to spot root causes of application problems in real-time, from third-party APIs down to code-level issues.
The tool is packed with an AI-powered cognition engine that efficiently examines transaction-based performance data across application topologies. This helps developers identify the most likely root cause and significantly reduce mean-time-to-resolution when issues arise.
AppDynamics considers seasonality and various other fluctuations to precisely trigger alerts, minimizing false positives and alert storms. Overall, it gives you complete visibility into every module that makes up your application ecosystem and shows how these modules depend on one another.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to perform a Root Cause Analysis?
There is a proven sequential process for carrying out RCA. It involves six basic steps:
- Determine the problem in detail how it affects the products, services, or processes.
- Identify what’s causing the problem using one or more RCA tools and techniques.
- Prioritize the causes to tackle them efficiently.
- Formulate solutions to fix the problem and prevent it from reoccurring in the long term.
- Implement solutions and ensure the sustainability of the change.
- Measure and assess the effectiveness of the implemented solutions.
All steps should be completed within 45 days of the occurrence of the event. However, if the problem is severe, these steps must be completed as quickly as possible.
What is the simplest method to perform Root Cause Analysis?
A scatter diagram is a simple quantitative method to find a relationship between two sets of data and test correlation between variables.
You can use it as an RCA tool by plotting the independent variable (possible causes) on the X-axis and dependent variables (effects) on the Y-axis. If the pattern displays a line or a curve, the variables are correlated.
What are the benefits of using RCA software?
RCA software enhances process efficiency and decreases operational risk by examining incidents, establishing root causes, and addressing the source of the problems. It can tackle multiple issues simultaneously and prioritize them as per your business model, so you don’t spend months working on something that doesn’t need a quick fix.
Modern software programs put all data in a centralized, cloud-based dashboard where it can be easily analyzed, reported, and shared with third-party tools. They help teams implement preventive measures to efficiently manage risk across all areas of operations.