Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a proven strategy for solving some of the bigger problems that threaten to derail your organization’s success.

It is well worth the effort of setting up an RCA process, so that it is ready to go whenever you need it and you can be confident that it will be effective in eliminating recurrence. But getting it right can prove challenging.

In this first blog of three exploring common pain points when it comes to RCA, we take a look at the RCA process and how confusion, ambiguity and a lack of understanding can lead to costly mistakes.

Confusion over which process you should use

The first hurdle to jump over involves choosing the right problem-solving process. RCA is an extremely effective tool for identifying what went wrong, but it may not be the best method for every situation.

Typically, when an incident occurs, you have three options for finding out what went wrong and how to fix it. Your choice depends on the severity of the event:

  1. A minor event
    For a minor hiccup that has minimal impact on production, a ‘5 Whys’ analysis is likely to be appropriate. This quick and easy problem-solving methodology is suited to minor events that have minimal disruption to operations; and can be done by the machine operator or field worker. There’s generally no drain on resources.
  2. A safety or behavioral issue
    Things get a little more serious when safety is at stake or a person is at the heart of a problem. There are a range of methodologies you can use in these instances, but we highly recommend the Apollo Root Cause Analysis™ methodology. These investigations may involve a small team of people and take a little more time.
  3. A major event
    If something catastrophic occurs – leading to serious injury, death, or millions of dollars’ worth of downtime – then it’s time to conduct a formal incident instigation utilizing an RCA process to establish causal relationships, which is a more robust and time-consuming process.

Yet how do you define what a minor event entails, compared to a major event? How do you know which investigative tool to use and when? In many organizations, confusion and the lack of a clearly-defined strategy means that the wrong methodology is often used. Performing an RCA when something simpler will do the job is costly and a drain on resources; conversely, doing a simple 5 Whys for a serious incident may not get to the root of the problem – which makes it more likely to happen again.

Knowing when to conduct an RCA

In order to apply the right process to different problems, you need to define clear parameters or triggers. Your parameters may be cost-based – for example, if an event causes over $500,000 in lost production, then you conduct an RCA. Or they may be human-centred – for example, if an event causes the hospitalization of an employee, then you conduct an RCA.

Triggers are unique to each company. To create your triggers, you could conduct an RCA implementation workshop with key stakeholders and external experts. Once they are defined – bearing in mind that it is important to keep them clear, specific and quantifiable – then they need to be communicated to all relevant employees.

Your goal is to make it clear to everyone which process to use when a problem presents itself.

Training your team in one RCA process

With your triggers in place, your teams know when to instigate an RCA investigation. But do they know which RCA process to use? Many organizations leave the choice of RCA process up to individuals. This ad hoc approach leads to a lack of consistency; which in turn means that reports are not standardized and progress is difficult to measure.

Picking and implementing an effective RCA methodology for the entire organization is critical to overcoming the problems of an ad hoc approach. To do this, an RCA champion should be appointed who is responsible for selecting a single RCA tool and then bringing all employees up to speed on how to use the tool. This champion is responsible for the performance of RCA. To keep them accountable, it should become part of their KPIs.

Beyond initial RCA training, it can be challenging to keep the momentum up with RCA. After all, it’s a process that you hope you don’t have to use very often. What happens in many organizations is that employees participate in RCA training but then fall into a post-training black hole – they go back into their everyday working environment where there is no demand to use any of the principles they learned in the training and as a result, the training is quickly forgotten.

Part of the process of implementing RCA is keeping the momentum up so that the training and principles remain top of mind. The RCA champion or champions should work hard to keep RCA on the agenda, reminding people why it’s relevant. A mature RCA process would look something like this:

  • Identifying the need for RCA
  • Choosing an RCA process
  • Providing employees with the appropriate levels of training
  • Auditing the program every 12 months
  • Providing refresher training every 12 months

Ideally, you’re not having to use RCA very often. But this mature process will ensure that, when it’s needed, your teams have the skills and confidence to hit the ground running.

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