Why formalize root cause analysis?
There are many approaches to determining the root of our problems. In the automotive world, there are two typical approaches, the 8D or the 8 Discipline, or the A3 (named for the paper size). We will not go into the details of either of these approaches but you can find the templates for these by clicking the links above.
There are some benefits to a formalized root cause analysis. We can think of 6 reasons as listed below:
- Controls jumping to conclusions and just working on the symptom
- Coordinates effort / focus
- Documents actions so we know what have tried and what is next
- Traceable for future events
Controls jumping to conclusions and just working on the symptom
A formalized approach to root cause analysis in such a way that will keep us from jumping to conclusions about the nature of the failure. Those that have read this blog for any period of time, know that we are a big fan of aircraft disasters. If you really want to understand what solving complex problems is really like, check out that show. It is seldom that the first thing we think is the problem, is in fact the problem. There is also a significant chance that the root cause is not in fact a single thing, and very likely not the single thing we may immediately believe to be the problem often based upon our biases and experiences.
If we have done the work well enough, we have documentation that would make it possible to recreate our exploration in as much as it could possibly be replicated. This gives us a sense of really understanding the nature of this problem. If we are able to replicate the problem, we are theoretically better able to solve the problem, or more importantly, we are able to be able to see if we have solved the problem. The solution should prevent the problem from recurring.
Coordinates effort / focus
The diversity of perspective can help us uncover the nature of the problem and methods for us to explore these beliefs. With a team, we may get a multitude of ideas as to the root cause, and without some level of formalism, we may all charge off in many directions pursuing our own agenda or thoughts on the matter. Our goal is to quickly understand and solve the problem. With team members going off in many and unknown or uncoordinated directions, we are not efficiently making use of the organization’s resources, time and talent. A formalized approach helps keep the team connected to each other and to the objective and ensures the opportunity for team learning.
Documents actions so we know what have tried and what is next
Without a formalized approach we would not know what things have been explored, what has been discovered, and what has been learned. We are able to build upon what has been tried and what has been learned. We can consider our next actions in the context of our past actions in the course of resolving this problem.
Traceable for future events
The formalized process, will have some measure of recording the actions that are under taken and the results of the exploration and the final solution. This information can be fodder or future work. We can capture this information in a searchable database that will make recovery of these activities possible rather than accidental by other people in the organization. One such tool is http://www.wjjsoft.com/innokb.html
There are some times, maybe, when our approach to finding the root cause of the malady that we are facing is a single event and perhaps it is obvious or easy to determine. However, based upon my experience, and looking at things like aircraft disasters, this situation is very very very rare. It is far more likely that what you think it is, is not really the only reason for the problem. Team work will benefit from coordination and keeping track of what has been tried, along with prioritization of what needs to be explored now. Root cause requires more than one person, and coordination of effort, to that end, some measure of formalism is required.