Monday, July 25, 2011

Triggering Success with Root Cause Analysis

Many Root Cause Analysis (RCA) implementations fail because of one simple missing element, the triggers. These process gates control the flow of RCA investigations through the problem solving process. If they are nonexistent then you may have too many RCA investigations to handle; and if they are set up improperly you could end up with too little or too many investigations.
Triggers may be a certain number of hours of downtime, a certain level of cost, or safety implications. These triggers decide both when an investigation needs to occur and to what level. For example, for an issue of downtime that equals one hour, you may involve a maintenance or reliability engineer, and he may interview those involved and create a simple style A3 report. On the other side, if you had fourteen hours of downtime, you may involve a team of folks including engineers, operators, maintainers, supervisors, and others as required. With the more in-depth investigations, your triggers may suggest that you use additional tools and more complex documentation. All of this is determined when you build your RCA process flows.
The problem with missing the balance is two extremes. The most common is that there is an influx of investigations, so many in fact that your RCA team members and facilitators cannot keep up. They spend all their time rushing through investigations, which leads to reports that have limited value and are completed to “check a box” and action items that are never followed up on or implemented. There is no return on investment for Root Cause Analysis until the action items have been completed, and the exercise is not over until the expected results have been proven. The second issue is when the triggers are set too high and there are so few RCA investigations that your team forgets the methods and processes for the investigation. This leads to a loss of skill and a loss of results. One or two RCAs per year will get you to that low level of performance ever time.
Leaders in organizations that are starting up or restarting RCA efforts need to be especially diligent to insure that they follow the process. It is easy to become eager for results and ask for RCAs to be done when they fall outside of the ranges set in the triggers. This leads to the same overload as triggers that are set too low.
As the organization matures in the use of RCA problem solving, the triggers will move to new levels. This is simply because the participants will get better at using the tools and processes and will be able to do more investigations in less time. When this occurs, you lower your triggers to allow more investigations into the process. At this point, you are now investigating and resolving more root causes in the same amount of time.
Keep in mind, RCA is driven by the implementations of the report findings and the follow-up actions. Or to say it a different way, RCA is all about results not reports. If you set your triggers right, and stick with your process, you will see those results grow. 
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