Five Common Mistakes in Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis is key to solving organizational and operational problems. Without identifying the root causes of the issue, the organization may spend time and money implementing initiatives which do not mitigate or eliminate future occurrences of the problem. The most common tool used to conduct Root Cause Analysis is the Ishikawa Diagram – more commonly known as the Fishbone Diagram. However, the following mistakes are commonly found when evaluating Root Cause Analysis efforts.

Norma Krech root cause analysis

1. Poorly Defined Problem Statement

It is imperative that problem analysis be conducted prior to beginning a Root Cause Analysis. This will not only determine whether a problem truly exists – or is just perceived – but will also identify where the problem exists, when it exists, and how pervasive it actually is. A well define Problem Statement drives the entire Root Cause Analysis effort.

2. Lack of Root Cause Validation

When conducting a Root Cause Analysis, resources familiar with the problem’s issues are utilized to create the Fishbone Diagram. However, each root cause identified in the diagram is actually a potential root cause – a hypothesis per se – as the Fishbone Diagram is created based upon experiences of the resources and not data. Each identified root cause must have a validation plan to determine if this hypothesis is true or false. 

3. Not “Sticking” to the Root Causes

The Fishbone Diagram uses the “5-Why” technique within its model. Asking “why” five times, or until no longer actionable, identifies potential root causes. The end of this trail of questions is where the potential root cause lies, yet many times improvement teams revert back to the beginning of the 5-Why questions in selecting potential causes, thereby passing up the root causes all together.

4. Selecting Lack of Training, Support, or Money as Root Causes

The lack of training, leadership or management support, or funding are not root causes to organizational or operational problems. They are solutions. The causes of the problem lie elsewhere.  

5. Problems Have a Single Root Cause

When conducting Root Cause Analysis, it will be discovered that there are multiple causes to a problem’s existence, with each root cause having its own level of contribution to the problem. Upon validation and identification of root causes, improvement efforts should be prioritized based upon the contribution each root cause has to the problem.