What is root cause analysis?

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A root cause analysis is a questioning and investigation process that business managers use to determine the true source of a problem. It seeks to go beyond treating the symptoms of the problem and isolating the real cause. The main objective of a root cause analysis is to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

Companies may become aware of a problem in one of their processes during various stages. For example, it could be a defect in the design of a product that appears during testing. The problem may not appear until the product is in a customer’s hands and the company receives a complaint. If a company is made aware of the problem as soon as the product is in the customer’s hands, this will result in increased costs.

The cost of fixing the problem increases as the customer may not continue to buy products from the company due to their dissatisfaction. If the issue is not resolved by the company in a way that pleases the customer, this can result in negative word of mouth. The client may well tell his family, friends and casual acquaintances about his negative experience. A root cause analysis aims to prevent this type of scenario.

Rather than blaming employees, a root cause analysis looks at the process behind the problem. For example, if an employee is involved in an accident while performing their duties, company managers delve into the work procedures and policies established around the task that caused the accident. Managers may also need to review any equipment involved, including procedures for its maintenance. Root cause analysis continues to ask why the injury happened and goes back through all the processes involved.

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If managers determined that a defective piece of equipment caused an employee to be injured, they would start with the equipment malfunction. The analysis may lead them to the discovery that the defective piece of equipment should not have been used. Perhaps it was not determined by the employee to be defective because he or she did not receive proper training. An analysis may even find that defective equipment was not replaced due to a disagreement between which department in the company should be responsible for purchasing the correct equipment.

The result of the root cause analysis revealed that the real cause was the reluctance to promote cross-departmental collaboration and spend the necessary funds to ensure employee safety. To prevent the problem from happening again, company managers need to first ensure that the proper equipment is purchased. In addition, they would need to work to create an environment where the two departments see each other as a team rather than adversaries.

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