Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does a Root Cause Exist?

Root Cause Analysis or RCA is an incredible tool for improving your operation or processes, but there are a few points that "practitioners" sometimes miss. One of which is that there is very seldom one root fact in most cases there are at least two. One is a condition that has existed for some period of time and the other is an action that allowed the condition to create an undesirable outcome. Lets look at a very simple example, if you slip on a wet floor there was a condition (the wet floor) and an action (you stepping on the wet floor). If you think about it this way, then you can decide which cause to eliminate. You can eliminate the water causing the wet floor or the action of walking through it.  Of course, you should dig deeper into each of these branches to better understand the underlying causes but this works for a simple example. The point is when you neglect one of these elements you limit your ability to mitigate or eliminate the failure at the lowest cost. Sometimes the condition or action will appear blatantly obvious but remember that even though it is obvious we list it to ensure that we consider its elimination or modification as a possible solution. I have witnessed many sites using the 5 Why methodology which typically leads to one "root cause" and in many cases the solution is more expensive and more complicated than it need be.  I like the 5Why methodology for building a root cause culture in your facility, but it should not be the back bone of your Root Cause Analysis program. So does root cause exist? Only if you consider root causes.

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