We always dig for reasons to identify the root cause behind problems that crop up every day. What might have led to the problem?
This analysis of the causal factors that led to this snag is technically defined as Root Cause Analysis.
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the technique used by project managers and all professionals to solve problems that affect an organization’s ability to meet strategic objectives in project management. In a broader sense of course.
RCA is the most favored procedure for obtaining permanent solutions to recurring problems, not just equipment failures in any project or situation.
Why Conduct Root Cause Analysis?
A root cause analysis helps to spot the challenges a program should tackle to reach its target.
Most visible aspects of an issue may not be the root cause of the problem. Each problem has one or more root causes.
Many times, the issues are being seen is the result of the root causes, and is, therefore, a symptom, but not the core problem.
For example-nearly, smartphones, such as Samsung, Sony or even iPhone, over time are seen to report freezing or phone hung issues. This is the phone’s touch freezing/ OS hanging problem.
Reasons that caused a mobile phone hanging/freezing problem are many like
- Overutilization of the RAM
- Installing many heavy applications,
- Running too many applications with low memory,
- And not deleting caches, log files and cookies …to name a few.
Issues behind each problem are different. You need to address each issue with a different solution.
To obtain an understanding of the root causes, you are to dig deeper, identify symptoms, establish symptoms to issue occurrence, etc. to minimize these symptoms and finally identify the true cause.
When the most obvious and recurring issues aren’t dealt with in a timely manner, you are at risk of encountering issues with greater impact and severity.
As a result:
- You spend a lot of efforts on rework
- Risk your operations and its stability
- Your work environment or project have greater risk of failure
- You will end up spending more with direct impact to overall project profitability
- Stakeholder confidence is also at risk
- Your expertise is questioned
- Teams tend to be demotivated
- You are clueless on how to deal with it for good
How to conduct a Root Cause Analysis?
Know your problem.
Define the problem. Step one; is to identify the issue and the impact thereof on the environment.
- What and where exactly it happened. When did it begin and who was/were involved or affected?
- How significant is it?
The first information report is to be ascertained and recorded. It’s essential to have accurate documentation because all information will need to be closely verified and analyzed.
This information could indicate which of the possible causes actually happened in a way that would create the problem?
Possibly some data can point towards the possible causes did or did not contribute.
The key is to truly understand the exact issue & its impact and thereby accord the right priority.
Analyze each problem to isolate the root cause.
Recorded information will help identify the cause of the problem.
The objective is to pinpoint the exact cause. This will lead you to the initial trigger that turned into the present problem.
One method for identifying root causes is to make a root cause tree. Start with the problem and come up with causal factors for that problem by asking why.
5 Whys approach has often proved to be helpful.
Connect them all in a logical cause and effect order until you arrive at the root of the problem.
This process calls for sound judgment and might involve repeat trial and error process.
For example, if the team tried to address an identified root cause and the problem reoccurs, it’s a good indication, that it is not the root cause.
There is a need now to look at the identified root causes from a different angle and keep digging deeper to go past the symptoms of the problem.
The team can also consult experts and other members to assess whether they have rightly identified accurate root causes.
Allocate and assign resources
After zeroing on the nature of the problem next step is to select the RCA team who are best-suit for the job.
Right people and resources; that have the ability, are to be assigned and allocated to analyze the situation and devise a specific solution.
The second step is to select analysis methods. Whatever method you select must take action to prevent the causes from recurring.
Thereafter, the RCA team should look for possible solutions for implementation.
There are good and proven RCA tools like, a Fishbone diagram, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), a scatter diagram, a Pareto chart or some other tools that can be used to isolate the cause of a problem.
The possible solutions selected should be the most viable, and workable in the present condition of the project.
You need to plan out implementing solutions in phases to accommodate and ease the transition from old processes.
Identify and Execute the Corrective Action
Identify with the Process, what were the process steps that should have been carried out before the problem occurred?
Identify possible causes, if they did not occur as planned, which of the process lapses could have caused the problem?
It could be a system or a human that did not operate as expected or at optimum levels. Our objective should be to identify which component, service; step did directly contribute to the issue.
Once the source has been identified and isolated, it is time to identify and implement the best remedial action plan, which includes participants, steps, timelines, test set-ups, and parameters to measure success.
It is important to have
- Well defined action plan
- Approvals from the SMEs and key stakeholders
- Plan the execution with minimum downtime and impact to your current operations
- Associated costs must be identified and approved
- Efforts required and their impact on the overall project delivery must be ascertained and discussed with all stakeholders.
- The expected and actual results must be shared post-implementation
Evaluate the Effects
Just after implementation, measure the results to confirm if the root cause of the issue has been fixed. Record the findings for future reference, and include answers to these questions:
- Are they working as planned?
- Is the team performing nicely?
- Does the problem persist?
- What’s the percentage of effectiveness?
- Are there any alternative befitting solutions thought out?
- Has there been a positive impact on the process and deliverables?
Overall, projects turn into extended operational work if the recurring issues aren’t permanently solved and lead to project delays.
You cannot close the project when you have open issues with impact. Hence, RCA has to be baked into your project risk management plan too to minimize and nip them in the bud.
One must understand that RCA isn’t about fixing a known issue. It is about strengthening the overall quality posture of your organization and implementing robust processes required to deliver your product or services optimally.
RCA brings to light the missing pieces your operations must have or has ignored. It helps you revise your strategy and align your people, process and technology with that of your vision.
Thus you can better implement improvements, add transparency to your processes and generate desired awareness around quality assurance across the board.
As a result, the project outcomes are of high quality more aligned with the business objectives and help increase customer satisfaction.