Conducting a root cause analysis (RCA) is an essential problem-solving method used to isolate and identify concerns. RCA goes beyond simple cause and effect to identify failure points in a process or system.  

However, some companies skip steps in the RCA process or inadequately perform the process. This leaves them with challenges like limited time to focus on the right things, using the wrong RCA tool, a poor corrective action process and ineffective training.  

To perform an RCA correctly there are essential steps that must be taken. First, let’s look at common types of root causes that most companies must deal with.  

Types of Root Causes 

RCA analyzes and identifies multiple types of root causes. There are three common types that can cause failures including:  

Physical Causes: A physical cause is when a tangible item fails. For example, if an MRI machine at a hospital stops working and prevents a patient from receiving the proper health care, this is a physical root cause.  

Human Causes: This type of root cause is when one person or several team members does something incorrectly. Human error will often lead to a physical cause, e.g., a hospital’s quality management team didn’t perform an MRI machine’s scheduled inspection, which caused it to fail. 

Organizational Causes: An organizational root cause is when a system or process that an organization uses to do its jobs is faulty. For example, if a hospital’s quality control department mistakenly thought it was the patient safety department’s responsibility to inspect the MRI machine and nobody corrected them, this is an organizational root cause. 

How to Perform a Root Cause Analysis in 5 Steps 

To go through the RCA process effectively, follow the five steps below:  

1. Define the Problem

Analyze what you see happening and identify the precise symptoms to form a problem statement. 

2. Gather Data

Before you can move on to identifying the underlying problems, you must collect and evaluate all aspects of the situation. Performing a case study, incident investigation or accident analysis are a few common ways to accomplish this step. 

3. Identify Causal Factors

Now with your data in hand, it’s time to look for as many causal factors as possible that could have led to your problem. 

4. Determine the Root Cause(s)

Use root cause analysis methods, which we’ll outline below, to discover the root causes of each causal factor. 

5. Recommend and Implement Solutions

Once you know the root cause, you can recommend preventive action to ensure the problem never happens again and then develop a timeline and plan for implementing your solution.  

Popular Root Cause Analysis Methods 

The goal of RCA is to recognize all the underlying causes of a problem. Using an analysis method is a useful tool to accomplish this task. Some popular root cause analysis methods are: 

The Five Whys: This is a problem-solving strategy that consists of asking “Why did this problem happen?” and then following the answer up with a series of additional “But why?” questions until you get to the root cause of the problem. 

Change Analysis: This method meticulously examines all the changes leading up to an event in hopes of discovering risk management strategies. This is particularly useful when there are many possible causes. 

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): FMEA is one of the first systematic failure analysis methods and is a step-by-step guide for recognizing all potential failures in a product, business process or service. Once you’ve pinpointed each failure in a system, you can then assess the effects of those failures one by one. 

Get to the Root Cause of the Issue

The RCA tools above can be used to help you spot potential flaws in your solution before they happen.  

Resources About Root Cause Analysis: