RCA Programs - A How-To Guide

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Brian Hughes, Senior Vice President

March 31, 2016

Let’s start this conversation by defining a problem as an event resulting in a significant deviation from our goals and objectives. How many events fitting this description occur over any given week (month, year) at your company? What is the combined impact of all these events? Add it up – I’m sure it’s not a small number. Recapturing as much of this as possible is the goal of any RCA program, and it’s why people attend RCA training.

But an RCA program is a lot more than a series of training classes. Think about the number of people that attend root cause analysis training classes every year. I have no idea how many there are, but if I had to guess I’d say perhaps 250,000 people receive some form of formal RCA training over any given 12-month period. I’m not counting those that get a splash of 5-Whys or Fishbone as a part of different training… I expect including them would increase the total number to a few million. But whatever the number is, it’s not small.

Okay, now how many of those people go on to actually use their training ONE TIME after class? And what is the attrition rate over time? I think I’m a pretty good teacher and I think our training classes are top-notch, but I’m not delusional enough to think that my classes are so inspiring that after sixteen hours I will reformat 100% of my students with respect to how they solve problems. Even if they loved the training, changing a fundamental attribute in an adult (such as the way they go about solving problems) requires a sustained effort.

So the combined value of problems is large. Solving those problems (or reducing the risk of recurrence) helps reclaim some of this value. Root cause analysis helps people solve problems; but not everyone trained fully utilizes the knowledge, skills, and tools they receive in class.

The solution is to spend a small amount of effort putting together a root cause analysis program. An RCA program provides the support structure needed to maximize investment in RCA training. It consists of the following sections:

  1. Identify/Define Goals and Objectives
  2. Identify/Define Key Performance Indices
  3. Develop Threshold/Triggering Criteria
  4. Develop a Training Strategy
  5. Utilize a Common Reporting Template
  6. Implement a Formal Action Tracking System
  7. Identify/Define RCA Program Metrics
  8. Continuous Improvement Cycle

RCA Program Cycle

1. Goals and Objectives:

An RCA program needs to support the broader goals and objectives of the organization. Otherwise, those being asked to fund the program may not fully grasp the value RCA provides in helping to achieve these goals. In fact, RCA may be perceived as a roadblock – more red tape that makes their jobs harder, not easier. We know this this is not the case. Every organization has problems that result in costly deviations from plan. Recognizing and managing these problems helps reduce risk and increase the likelihood that goals will be achieved.

Goals can be broken down into two areas: Global and Individual. Global goals are the same for everyone in the organization. Classic global goals include Safety, Environmental, and Quality – but there may be others. Individual goals are specific to the business unit or specific area of responsibility. For instance, one business unit may have very different production goals than another. These individual businesses will need assistance identifying business-unique goals. However, they will likely share the global goals set at the corporate level.

Action: What are your corporate-level goals? Start with global goals, and then ask representatives in each business to help develop individual goals.

2. Key Performance Indices:

KPIs help us keep score. Once we know what the goals are, we simply need to determine how to benchmark and measure them. Once KPIs are established, they need to be tracked and reported. This process should not be onerous or else it risks not getting done. A simple method of tracking KPIs, such as an Excel spreadsheet, should suffice.

Action: Identify KPIs for each goal. Produce a simple way to measure and track them over time.

3. Threshold Criteria:

Threshold criteria tell employees when a formal RCA is required. Threshold criteria can be easily derived from the list of goals and KPIs discussed above. There will be global as well as business-specific threshold triggers. Keep investigation capacity in mind. Aggressive thresholds will increase the number of required RCAs. It is detrimental to the RCA program to trigger more RCAs than capacity can handle. Thresholds can always be adjusted up or down later. Set what you believe to be achievable thresholds and then monitor. Make adjustments as needed.

Action: Using the list of goals and KPIs discussed above, choose achievable threshold triggers. Publish to the entire organization.

RCA Threshold Criteria

4. Training Strategy:

Sologic offers many levels of training. You can review them here: http://www.sologic.com/root-cause-analysis-training

Training is only the first step toward developing RCA capability. After training, your people will need practice and support in order for the training to transform into capability. You need to set the expectation immediately that those trained need to develop their new skills. Some students are better than others at RCA – identify those that have the skills (and the drive). They are great candidates for Analyst 2 and 3.

Sologic can provide RCA program support to our clients. Contract with us for eight hours per month for a six-month period. We will assign an experienced program champion to work with you to make sure your program stays on track. The goal would be to hand the program off to you completely at the end of the contract.

RCA Training Progression

5. Reporting:

Develop and distribute common RCA report template. Causelink provides a useful report. I would recommend using this output for the majority of investigations. For larger, more detailed investigations I would recommend developing a Word template.

Action: Develop a common RCA reporting template.

6. Action Tracking:

All RCAs generate actions. What is your system for managing actions? Is there a Corporate-wide system, or does each individual business do its own thing? Causelink Enterprise is a great tool for this. I would recommend starting with a 10-seat license. If you exceed capacity, it is always possible to add additional licenses.

7. RCA Program Metrics:

RCA program metrics tell us how well we are managing our RCA program. Examples include:

  • How many threshold events were triggered last week?
  • How long between threshold event occurrence and the start of the RCA?
  • How long to complete the RCA?
  • How many investigations per trained Analyst?
  • How many analysts are using their training?
  • How effective are the implemented solutions?

…and others.These metrics should be tracked and reported to leadership. Identify and focus on areas of concern. Trend over time to determine overall program effectiveness.

Action: Develop a list of RCA program metrics that can be easily tracked and reported.

8. Continuous Improvement:

As the RCA program matures, gather improvement ideas and implement them. These ideas can come from Leadership, RCA Program Management, or from those conducting RCAs.

Action: Create a place where ideas can be captured. Periodically review, prioritize, and implement them.