What is root cause analysis (RCA)?

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a structured problem solving method. The aim of RCA is to identify, understand and solve the deeper ‘root causes’ of problems.  RCA is built on the principle that causal relationships exist for all events. By understanding these we can move beyond the symptoms and address the root causes at source.

For many of us, when there is a problem at work, it is difficult to get beyond immediate symptoms, meaning that the underlying causes have not been dealt with and will need fixing time and time again.  A scenario we often refer to as “fire-fighting”.   

The Root Cause Analysis method or ‘RCA’ as it is often abbreviated to, is a widely used technique that helps people get beyond the symptoms of a problem and reveal the, often hidden, and multiple root causes.

There are a variety of Root Cause Analysis processes to choose from, some are quick and easy, such as 5 Whys, others are longer and more complex such as FMEA and Ishikawa. The Sologic RCA methodology is quick to learn, logical and scalable.  It is also universal in that it can be applied to any problem, in any sector.

Who is responsible for Root Cause Analysis?

Anyone can lead an RCA - especially if they are using the right method and tools. Best practice in RCA shows us that subject matter expertise in the area being investigated is not usually required. An expert Root Cause Analysis training course can ensure your RCA Champions have the skills they need.

The RCA Lead or Facilitator usually assembles the RCA Team and gathers the information required from a variety of sources. They then use this information to determine the three main components of any Root Cause Analysis:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What is required to prevent this problem from happening again?

These investigations may be recorded as individual reports or form part of a formal company-wide RCA Program.

How to conduct an RCA?

When an incident occurs it’s important that it is understood in a logical, objective and critical manner. To do this successfully we must gather and manage the available evidence.  Once collected in full we can define the problem and record its impacts.  High quality cause and effect analysis adds a deeper understanding, leading to targeted and more effective solutions.  If these are clearly documented and shared an organisation can learn from past failures and prevent future problems.   

5 Step Sologic Root Cause Analysis Method

Sologic employ a 5 Step process to conduct a high-quality RCA investigation.


RCA Step 1: Gather and Manage Data

An RCA investigation should be based on facts – making sure the RCA is evidence-based helps ensure accuracy.  High-quality evidence helps ensue your RCA is based on known data, not supposition. 

RCA Step 2: Create a Problem Statement

An RCA should define the problem clearly, when it occurred, where it occurred, and it should document the impact and outstanding risks.

Example Problem Statement for Root Cause Analysis (RCA):

RCA Problem Statement Template

RCA Step 3: Analyse Cause and Effect

What were the causes of your incident?  Cause and Effect Analysis reveals that actions and conditions are interrelated.  A change in one area creates a change another.  These coincide to create the specific problem you are investigating.
The following common Root Cause Analysis Tools are favoured amongst those looking to conduct an effective visual analysis:
5 Whys 
Cause & Effect Diagrams (Continued Below)
Failure Mode & Effects Analysis FMEA
Fishbone Ishikawa 
Lean / Six Sigma 

In practice, the majority Root Cause Analysis specialists prefer the 5 Whys tool for simple problems and Cause and Effect charts for complex problems.

What is a cause and effect diagram?

A cause and effect chart is a logic diagram that shows causes and how they relate to each other.  It is a powerful tool to help you organise input from diverse sources and is particularly important when the problem is complicated. 
Often it is easy to explain away an event or incident with one simple cause. For example, we may describe the cause of a cut finger as being a knife making contact with the finger.  And that is certainly ONE cause. 

Simple cause and effect template diagram

But a basic premise of cause and effect analysis is that effects are generally the result of multiple causes.  The cut finger, for example, actually has two causes:  The knife blade making contact with the finger and the existence of sufficient force to break the skin.  

Cause and effect diagram example problem

Both of the causes of the cut finger will have subsequent causes as well.  It could all become quite confusing – therefore we employ a visual cause and effect chart to help keep things clear.  

RCA cause and effect chart completed example

For extra tips and ideas, watch this short video on simple Cause and Effect Charting

RCA Step 4: Generate Solutions

An effective visual analysis will reveal increased opportunities to change, eliminate or control the events that lead to your problem.  It is important that potential solutions are assessed for their potential effectiveness, their ease of implementation, their return on investment and their risk of unintended consequences. 

RCA solutions chart example

One common misconception is that there is a single root cause for any given event.  Rarely is this the case.  

'Consider the arc of vehicle safety over the past 25 years.  There are now many safety devices working to keep drivers and their passengers safe.  Safety devices have evolved from lap belts to three-point safety belts, air bags, energy-absorbing structures, proximity radars, anti-lock and automatic braking, and a host of other protective systems.  Many vehicles are moving towards full autopilot and in another 25 years, few of us will likely still be driving at all.  And we haven’t even touched on changes in road design and traffic management. Any one of these solutions on its own reduces risk.  But when they all act together, it makes for a much safer driving experience'.

A skilled RCA practitioner will challenge their teams to go beyond the quick fixes that get things back on track in the short-term, but allow risks to trend back to their pre-event levels over the long-term.  They will compare the cost of these solutions to the value of the problem in order to present leadership with a set of solutions that will not only be effective, but also provide a positive return on investment.

RCA Step 5: Complete and Share a Final Report

Once the analysis is complete, we assemble a final RCA report.  The final report is the communication vehicle for a broader audience so that others can recognize and mitigate risks in their areas.  The report also becomes the ‘lesson learned’ document enabling the new knowledge to be shared with future employees.

Cause and Effect charts are scalable and transferable. The logic is applicable to small recurrent issues as well as large, one-off, never-events.  Visit our root cause analysis examples pages to see examples covering areas such as safety, quality, reliability, operations and compliance. 

Root Cause Analysis Software 

Sologic’s Root Cause Analysis software tool, Causelink allows problem-solving professionals to investigate events in a simple, standardized and evidence-based manner. Causelink supports 5 Whys and Cause and Effect charting, encourages the breaking of causal chains and pinpoints the effective solutions that overcome repeat failures. 
Further Root Cause Analysis reading

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