Root Cause Analysis - Business Processes

What is Root Cause Analysis - Business Processes?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a foundational concept in business. But what is root cause analysis, exactly, and more importantly, how do you perform one?

As its name suggests, root cause analysis is a quality control strategy that allows you to uncover the underlying cause of an incident or issue.

When a business challenge arises, it may be tempting to address the obvious symptoms and move on. However, root cause analysis is a more proactive approach that helps you stop an issue at its source and reduce the likelihood of it recurring.

Root cause analysis is a critical tool for honing your competitive edge. If you adopt a purely reactive approach to problem-solving, you’ll incur avoidable expense and the customer experience will suffer. By contrast, RCA paves the way for reduced waste, more efficient operations, and a better customer experience.

Within IT Monitoring, Root Cause Analysis has a narrower definition and usually refers to software features that correlate metrics and other data to identify the root cause of IT failures, performance slowdowns and so on. For more information on that genre of RCA, please see: RCA – IT Monitoring page

How to perform Root Cause Analysis?

Your business can use root cause analysis to address all manner of challenges, from seemingly insignificant internal issues to major equipment failures. The basic steps will be the same regardless of why you’re performing an RCA:

Identify the Problem

The first step to a root cause analysis involves identifying the problem you want to resolve. While you don’t need to get too specific here, you should draft a formal problem statement. Meet with your staff and spell out the issue so everyone is on the same page.

Build a Team

Next, assemble a root cause analysis team. Your team should comprise members of every department that’s been affected by the problem. During this step, you’ll want to designate a facilitator to lead the analysis. Also, make sure your team includes individuals with the requisite expertise to investigate the problem thoroughly.

Gather Data

Now, you need to gather as much relevant data about the problem as possible. For instance, you might collect incident reports, emails, and service tickets. You should also conduct interviews with affected parties and review your existing policies to determine whether they’re exacerbating the problem.

List Potential Causes

Once you’ve gathered adequate data, you can begin identifying potential causes. Be open to all possible underlying causes, even if they seem unlikely. Don’t attempt to determine which factor is causing the issue just yet. Instead, vet the causes on your list and be willing to challenge your biases.

Narrow Your Focus

After your RCA team has built an exhaustive list of potential causal factors, analyze each one to figure out the likely culprits. In most instances, you’ll find that multiple confounding factors are at play, even if a single issue is causing the bulk of your headaches.

Implement a Solution

Finally, start brainstorming solutions. Proposed solutions should address root causes and account for any logistical or resource limitations that are at play. If resource limitations prevent you from solving all causes at once, focus on the issues that are having the biggest impact on productivity.

Root Cause Analysis methods

Now that we’ve answered the question “What is root cause analysis,” let’s highlight some of the most popular methods for conducting an RCA. These include:

  • Five “Whys”: This approach encourages the RCA team to identify the root cause using a series of “why” questions, which helps to alleviate bias. This is one of a number of techniques associated with the “Toyota Way” lean management program
  • Failure Mode and Effects Analysis: This rigorous strategy identifies every possible process failure and examines the impacts of these hypothetical failures
  • Impact Analysis: An impact analysis allows your organization to consider both positive and negative potential impacts of a root cause
  • Causal Factor Tree Analysis   method visualizes events, actions, and decisions that lead to a specific problem
  • Fishbone / Ishikawa Diagrams: Cause and effect diagrams frequently used to visualize processes and workflows. Ishikawa diagrams are commonly used in quality management, problem-solving, and continuous improvement processes, such as Six Sigma

These are just a few of the many different root cause analysis methods. When conducting an RCA, don’t hesitate to explore other methods and select the framework that best aligns with the challenges you’re facing and your organization's needs.

When used strategically, root cause analysis represents one of the most powerful tools for uncovering and remedying underlying business hurdles, thereby setting the stage for continued growth and success.

AI and Root Cause Analysis

Increasingly AI is being leveraged to derive actionable insights from data about business systems and processes. This is particularly true in areas such as IT Operations where AIOps tools are becoming common. Many AIOps observability tools automate the analysis of monitoring data pertaining to application or system performance to automatically diagnose the root cause of IT problems.