Things are going to go wrong in your business, no matter how well you prepare. Your equipment is going to fail, your employees are going to make mistakes, and ultimately, the health, safety, satisfaction, and efficiency of your employees and customers are going to be jeopardized.

When this happens, the best approach is to perform a root cause analysis, to investigate the true source of the problem (rather than immediate or proximate causes). However, to be successful, there are certain prerequisites your strategy should have in place.

Fundamentals for Successful Root Cause Analysis

These are the most important features your RCA plan should have:

  1. A documented system. You can’t rely on your employees (or yourself) executing the right series of steps, unless you’ve outlined which steps to take and when. Every RCA strategy should have an underlying guide—a standard operating procedure (SOP)—dictating how and when the analysis should take place (as well as who’s responsible for executing it). This will help you ensure consistency in your implementation, and provide a manual for anyone on your team who needs direction.
  2. A talented, designated team. RCA may seem simple, but if you want to get the most out of the strategy, you’ll need some top candidates available for execution. You should have a designated team of your most experienced employees taking over the analysis—and there should be multiple people working together. These candidates will need critical thinking skills, logical reasoning skills, data analysis experience, and most importantly, familiarity with how your business operates.
  3. A comprehensive list of variables to examine. Next, you’ll need a list of variables to examine, to understand which incidents or events were most responsible for the problem in question. For example, is timing an issue? Which parties were in charge of making decisions in the days leading up to the incident? The hours leading up to the incident? Were there any environmental abnormalities at play? Was the equipment functioning properly? Be as comprehensive as possible here.
  4. Formal documentation of the investigation. Whenever your analysts probe into an event, have them formally document their findings. They should be reporting on each step of the RCA investigation, and come up with a final report that summarizes their key findings. This documentation will make it easier for leadership to come to a decision on what to do next, will serve as a template for future RCAs, and will serve as a valuable reference point when making future decisions or dealing with further ramifications of the original incident.
  5. Multiple options for immediate response. As short-term measures, your RCA team should come up with some reactive strategies you can use as an immediate response. Think of these as patchwork fixes, meant to “stop the bleeding” from the original incident; for example, you may temporarily shut down a piece of equipment that malfunctioned, or put someone else in charge of a department as a short-term fix.
  6. Multiple options for proactive solutions. Next, you’ll need your RCA team to generate some options for proactive, long-term strategies, meant to change your organizational structure and prevent incidents like these from occurring in the future. For example, you may repair the problematic equipment or replace it entirely, or you may restructure the employee hierarchy to include more supervisory roles.
  7. Consistent implementation. Finally, you’ll need consistent implementation of your RCA strategy if you want it to pay off. This will ensure that you always have short-term and long-term solutions to work with, and give you insights that can help you improve your RCA approach over time.
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The Limits of RCA

RCA is the best strategy you can employ when responding to an accident or issue at your business, but there’s still one major weakness you should keep in mind: a reactive strategy. As an in-depth and results-focused reactive strategy, it’s more valuable than most reactive responses, but you’re still better off preventing issues from ever occurring with proactive strategies. Use your RCA implementation to fuel your proactive measures, and only in response to unexpected issues, rather than using it as a fallback to prevent or solve all your problems.

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