Root cause analysis examples (Plus definition and purpose)
Updated 16 May 2023
When a problem or incident occurs frequently, it's useful to understand why it keeps happening so you can resolve the issue. A root cause analysis is one method that can help teams determine the cause of a problem. Knowing how to perform one can help you identify and implement preventative measures to prevent the problem from happening in the future. In this article, we define root cause analysis, explain its purpose, describe some principles of this approach and provide a root cause analysis example.
What is a root cause analysis?
A root cause analysis is a detailed process that helps determine the underlying causes of an issue that frequently reoccurs. Many industries use root cause analysis to improve their processes, including manufacturing, engineering, disaster management, risk management and information technology. Some purposes of this type of analysis include:
Finding the root cause: This examination can help teams collect and analyse data to find the root cause of an issue.
Identifying corrective measures: A root cause analysis can help to identify corrective measures that can fix any systemic issues that may cause a problem to recur.
Implementing solutions: This type of analysis can help teams brainstorm methods to eliminate the root cause and take steps to implement those solutions.
Preventing future issues: By identifying the cause and finding a solution, a root cause analysis can help to resolve the current problem and prevent future issues.
Root cause analysis example
Below is a root cause analysis example to help when creating your own:
Laura, the customer care manager at Circle, a customer service call centre, realises that waiting times for customers have increased in recent months. Laura puts together a team to investigate the issue and begins a root cause analysis to establish the source of the problem and find a solution. They use the following information to investigate the issue:
Date of problem: 2 September 2021
Description of the problem: The average waiting time for customers is 38.9% higher than it was in the previous months.
Who reported the problem? Laura DeRossi, customer care manager
Who did the problem affect? Customers phoning the call centre from 2 September.
How did it affect them? They are waiting longer to speak with an available customer service agent.
How often did the problem occur? Repeatedly
What events occurred before the problem? The company implemented a new policy for customer service representatives to provide more detailed notes about their interactions with customers after each call.
What events occurred during the problem? Customer service representatives took more time to complete post-call work.
What events occurred after the problem? The average wait time for customers increased.
Names of staff involved in investigating the issue: Laura DeRrossi, customer care manager, John Parsley, customer service representative and Katrina Thomas, director of customer service
Methods for collecting data: Analyse the weekly metrics report to determine the root cause of the increase in wait times.
What did the team find to be the root cause of the issue? The root cause of the issue is an increase in post-call work that representatives complete after each call.
What data supports this finding? The weekly metrics report shows average wait times have increased by 38.9% while post-call work time has increased by 43% since 2 September.
Describe the steps to resolve and prevent the issue: The company can automate the process of compiling notes by installing a new system to complete portions of the form based on information that a customer provides through the automated system before speaking with a representative. In addition, the company can provide training to customer service representatives on how to take notes during their calls to reduce the post-call work times.
Date resolved: 11 December 2021
Approved by: Katrina Thomas, director of customer service
Components of a root cause analysis
There are various techniques that a team can use to guide the processes when trying to establish the root cause of a problem. An effective technique is to use a root cause analysis template, which is a document that helps to explain the issue, detail any potential causes and provide information about the solution. The exact template can vary depending on the company and how complex the issue is, but may include:
Description of the issue: This part of the template describes the problem or incident in detail, including when it occurred, who discovered the problem and who the issue affected.
Timeline: This section lists any events that occurred before, during or after the incident. It's important to be specific in this section to help identify potential underlying causes of the issue.
People involved: This section of the template identifies the team members who can help to analyse the issue, along with the methods they plan to use and the ways they plan to report their findings.
Root cause: In this section of the template, the team members can report their findings and explain their determination of the root cause, including any relevant data that supports their theory.
Methods: The final part of the template allows teams to list solutions to the problem that can help prevent the issue from occurring again. These solutions usually include specific, actionable steps the business can take to minimise or eliminate the root cause of the problem.
The core principles of root cause analysis
There are some core principles that guide effective root cause analysis. Following the principles helps the analysis quality and helps the analyst to gain trust from other stakeholders. Here are some of the key principles of root cause analysis:
Recognise other root causes
The main goal of performing a root cause analysis is to identify the root cause of the problem or issue that continues to occur. It's possible there is more than one root cause of a recurring problem. For example, a company that continues to experience a revenue decline may determine the root causes to be the rising costs of materials and a new challenger in the market. Teams can employ a root cause analysis template to ask relevant questions and brainstorm ideas about the potential root causes of a frequent problem.
Separate root cause from causal factors
When performing a root cause analysis, teams may also find several causal factors, which are circumstances that can contribute to a problem without directly causing it. A root cause analysis enables teams to pinpoint those causal factors while isolating them from the root cause. Correcting causal factors can often help businesses fix a problem in the short term, but eradicating the root cause can provide long-term benefits.
A root cause analysis allows teams to provide context about the root cause of the issue, including why it occurred. When conducting a root cause analysis, it's important for teams to show evidence to support their findings. For example, teams may learn that a faulty part in a machine has caused delays in production processes. They can support this finding by gathering current and past data about the machine's performance to show how it has declined over time. This context can also help teams persuade company leaders to implement their recommended solutions for fixing the issue.
Correct the issue
Once a team has determined the root cause of an incident, they can begin to manage the problem. This is an essential principle of a root cause analysis because it helps companies take preventative measures to minimise or eliminate prospective problems. Teams can work together to assess different solutions for fixing the root cause and use the information and data they collect to determine the optimal solution. It's helpful to use a root cause analysis template to outline the precise steps a team or organisation can take to address the root cause.
Once teams finish a root cause analysis, they monitor the results of their advised solution to determine its efficacy. Teams may choose to include an audit or checklist that can help to measure the results of the action plan. If the root cause still exists after implementing the solution, teams can look at the analysis template again and check their results to see if another solution may work. It's possible that teams may implement several methods before finding the most effective outcome.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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