Root Cause Analysis

Business Analyst Techniques #3 Root Cause Analysis

RCADo you believe in getting into the roots of any problem or just happy with the work-around? Indeed root-cause analysis plays very important role in getting the exact reason of the problem. Before getting into roots, let’s understand the meaning of problem. An event which hinders the smooth flow of the process can be termed as an issue and recurrence of same issue is termed as Problem. Root cause analysis (RCA) is done to focus on the identifying and correcting the events which results into problem so that the same can be prevented in future.

RCA should be performed as soon as the defect or variance is detected to avoid major problems in future. Also if the process is delayed, there may be a possibility of information get missed. RCA is not the only responsibility of a business analysts but I believe all the stakeholders should be involved to understand the issue and its criticality. Involving stakeholders also help in getting away from the fictionalization or dilution of the facts. Thus it becomes the responsibility of the analysts to explain the purpose of the RCA to all the stakeholders so that they don’t feel hostile or defensive. We also should keep in mind that one corrective action is not valid for all types of the issues and this is also confirmed by the Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA).

There are certain techniques followed by different business analysts and organizations for root cause analysis.

Five Whys: Five Whys is used to get to the root of what is really happening in a single instance. For each answer given a further ‘why’ is asked. The FIVE Whys is a question-asking technique used to explore the effects underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem. There is a no format of framing the questions but how well the questions are framed definitely help in getting the pertinent cause of the problem. Let’s take an example of machine room where oil on the floor is found every morning by the cleaning department. The cleaning team gets the floor cleaned but as its becoming problem and to avoid any hazards, the house-keeping department decided to find the root cause of this problem. Let’s now check what 5 questions they have framed to find the root cause:

Oil found on the floor Someone might have hit the oil can kept in the machine room accidentally, but that person should have informed the cleaning team immediately as it was in the instructions.
Oil spilled at the time of routine oiling of machines May be at the time of oiling machines, it got spilled on the floor, but the team should have cleaned at that time only.
Oil overflowed from any of the machines May be there was overflow due to excess oil poured in the machine, but there is no space for over-flow as the lid of the container is airtight.
Oil found near to one machine only May be the pipe in that machine is leaking. Checked thoroughly but no leakage in the machine pipes found.
Oil near the containers kept beside the machine as well May be one of the containers is leaking.Bingo, the house-keeping team has found the leakage in the oil containers.


Thus, we have seen here how the house-keeping department has found the leakage in one of the containers. Now further investigations would be done in order to find answers to other important questions like why the leaking container was kept in the machine room, why the routine check-up of the room and its commodities was not done and other details of the responsible people.

It’s not necessary that every time we have to frame 5 questions to find the root cause, the number may vary with the type of issues and its criticality. The number either decrease or if the root cause is not found in 5 questions, the number goes on increasing till all the details are not noted. However there are certain limitations to this Five-Why technique as mentioned below:

  • Tendency for investigators to stop at symptoms rather than going on to lower-level root causes.
  • Inability to go beyond the investigator’s current knowledge – cannot find causes that they do not already know.
  • Lack of support to help the investigator ask the right “why” questions.
  • Results are not repeatable – different people using 5 Whys come up with different causes for the same problem.
  • Tendency to isolate a single root cause, whereas each question could elicit many different root causes.

The other method which can be used to perform RCA is tabular method. It is fundamentally a type of checklist which is prepared for the current running processes in any organization. In case of failure in any of those processes, the same checklist is referred to find the variance and the same can be cleared easily at any point. But this process may not accommodate the complex processes.

The cause-effect diagram also known as Ishikawa Fishbone diagram is also a technique for RCA. It shows the cause of a specific event. Common uses of the fishbone diagram are product design and quality defect prevention, to identify potential factors causing an overall effect. Each cause or reason for imperfection is a source of variation. Causes are usually grouped into major categories to identify these sources of variation. The categories typically include:

  • People: Anyone involved with the process
  • Methods: How the process is performed and the specific requirements for doing it, such as policies, procedures, rules, regulations and laws
  • Machines: Any equipment, computers, tools etc. required to accomplish the job
  • Materials: Raw materials, parts, pens, paper, etc. used to produce the final product
  • Measurements: Data generated from the process that are used to evaluate its quality
  • Environment: The conditions, such as location, time, temperature, and culture in which the process operates


Ishikawa Fishbone Diagram (cause and effect diagram)

Cause-and-effect diagrams can reveal key relationships among various variables, and the possible causes provide additional insight into process behaviour. Causes can be derived from brainstorming sessions with different stakeholders and it depends on the industry type. E.g. in case of service industry the cause of the issue may be any among surroundings, suppliers, systems, skills and safety also known as 5Ss used in service industry. In the same way, the causes can be defined under different categories for other industries.

There are certain principles of RCA which should be kept in mind at the time of following any of the RCA techniques. Some of them can be listed as:

  • Identify the factors that resulted in the nature, magnitude and location of the issue.
  • It should be performed in a systematic way and the result of each step of investigation should be documented properly.
  • There may be more than one root cause of one problem so determining the exact cause becomes important for the person doing RCA.
  • Always check for available resources which can make RCA effective and successful.

RCA can thus be concluded as a valuable analysis technique which should be learned by business analysts and managers including other stakeholders in order to conduct it at several levels of complexities.

Happy Learning!!!!

2 thoughts on “Root Cause Analysis”

  1. I appreciate your work a lot. Can you please be kind enough to explain the Fishbone analysis technique in more detail.

    1. Hi Abhinav,
      I appreciate your efforts towards learning business analysis. I will send you the details in separate mail.

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