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Systems Engineering Blog

When is it time to conduct a Root Cause Analysis?

September 15, 2017 | Posted in:

Business Continuity, Compliance

Posted by Christine Doucette

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In my blog article posted on July 14, 2017, I covered the Foundations of Quality and Continuous Improvement which discussed the importance of establishing business quality across the board. In this blog post, I will talk about Root Cause Analysis, a method used to discover the root or cause of an issue or problem when quality breaks down.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a method used to identify and document the potential causes of a problem. This should take place when an incident or breakdown in service occurs, particularly incidents or breakdowns that lead to undesired outcomes for clients.   

How do you know when an RCA is needed? Here are some criteria to determine when it's most likely necessary:

  • Complaint or feedback from client
  • Failure in service delivery
  • Unexpected downtime
  • Data loss
  • Undefined process
  • Financial or billing adjustment often ending in a write-off

Most problems that exist do not have one, clear identifiable cause. A root cause analysis can help determine possible contributing factors, such as what, how, and why something might have happened. The main objectives of walking through an RCA are:

  • Prevent reoccurrence of the issue
  • Continuous improvement of service quality
  • Document accountability of breakdown
  • Identify deficiencies in process or process documentation
  • Identify training needs and opportunities
  • Establish bar of excellence

Here's something very important to keep in mind when going through the exercise: RCA is a focus on process issues, not people issues.

Who gets involved?

RCA is done by a team of people that are stakeholders to the incident or breakdown; those who have an understanding of the problem in which a solution is needed. These individuals might also be the same folks implementing preventive action(s) aimed at eliminating root causes.

It is the responsibility of all employees to notify their manager or the Quality Management (QM) department when an incident occurs that meets the criteria above. And, it is the responsibility of the Manager and the QM department to determine the severity level of the incident, initiate and conduct the RCA, monitor and assist with the preventive action plans put into place, and follow up on the quality audit plans.

Employees may be asked to contribute information to a timeline of events, take part in establishing a root cause or causes, and developing and implementing preventive actions. During this process, it is important for the Manager and QM department to communicate the information that is needed from employees as well as how employees are expected to document the information requested.

The Process

Once it is identified that an RCA is needed, it's important to understand the high-level steps desired for conducting the analysis. They are as follows:

  • Identity incident
  • Notify Manager, Team Lead, or QM Department
  • Identify stakeholders
  • Timeline of events established by stakeholders
  • Identify breakdowns or deviations that led to the incident
  • Identify contributing factors to breakdowns
  • Ask why to each contributing factor to establish root cause
  • Brainstorm and determine preventative actions to eliminate root cause and repeat occurrence
  • Establish quality audit plan, to do's, and follow up

Taking a deeper dive into why a problem or incident occurs by doing a root cause analysis can help establish more sustainable and reliable solutions to problems.

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CDoucette.pngChristine Doucette joined Systems Engineering in April of this year and is the Quality Manager. She is focused on qualifying and improving internal processes and procedures. In the past, Christine has coached and facilitated improvement projects and designed and implemented training programs focused on continuous improvement methodologies.