Imagine yourself as a potential member of a team responsible for designing a new package for breakfast cereal.
Tracing a Problem to Its Origins In medicine, it's easy to understand the difference between treating the symptoms and curing the condition.
A broken wrist, for example, really hurts! But painkillers will only take away the symptoms; you'll need a different treatment to help your bones heal properly. But what do you do when you have a problem at work?
Do you jump straight in and treat the symptoms, or do you stop to consider whether there's actually a deeper problem that needs your attention? If you only fix the symptoms — what you see on the surface — the problem will almost certainly return, and need fixing over, and over again.
However, if you look deeper to figure out what's causing the problem, you can fix the underlying systems and processes so that it goes away for good.
Root Cause Analysis RCA is a popular and often-used technique that helps people answer the question of why the problem occurred in the first place. It seeks to identify the origin of a problem using a specific set of steps, with associated tools, to find the primary cause of the problem, so that you can: Determine why it happened.
Figure out what to do to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again. RCA assumes that systems and events are interrelated. An action in one area triggers an action in another, and another, and so on.
By tracing back these actions, you can discover where the problem started and how it grew into the symptom you're now facing. You'll usually find three basic types of causes: Physical causes — Tangible, material items failed in some way for example, a car's brakes stopped working.
Human causes — People did something wrong, or did not do something that was needed. Human causes typically lead to physical causes for example, no one filled the brake fluid, which led to the brakes failing. Organizational causes — A system, process, or policy that people use to make decisions or do their work is faulty for example, no one person was responsible for vehicle maintenance, and everyone assumed someone else had filled the brake fluid.
RCA looks at all three types of causes. It involves investigating the patterns of negative effects, finding hidden flaws in the system, and discovering specific actions that contributed to the problem. This often means that RCA reveals more than one root cause.
You can apply RCA to almost any situation. Determining how far to go in your investigation requires good judgment and common sense. Theoretically, you could continue to trace the root causes back to the Stone Age, but the effort would serve no useful purpose. Be careful to understand when you've found a significant cause that can, in fact, be changed.
Define the Problem What do you see happening? What are the specific symptoms? Collect Data What proof do you have that the problem exists? How long has the problem existed? What is the impact of the problem?
You need to analyze a situation fully before you can move on to look at factors that contributed to the problem. To maximize the effectiveness of your RCA, get together everyone — experts and front line staff — who understands the situation.
People who are most familiar with the problem can help lead you to a better understanding of the issues. Finding This Article Useful? Subscribe to Our Newsletter Receive new career skills every week, plus get our latest offers and a free downloadable Personal Development Plan workbook.
With this process, you look at the same situation from different perspectives: Identify Possible Causal Factors What sequence of events leads to the problem? What conditions allow the problem to occur?Our problem solving activity tool does just that, providing a process to frame your problem as an opportunity and a question checklist to help you define what exactly the problem is, and why it is worth your while solving it.
The question checklist also leads you through a structured set of questions to start the analysis of the problem. A manager sets the long and short term direction of the team or organization. This includes the vision, mission, goals, and objectives — in other words, strategy. Strategic managers spend a lot of time thinking about mission and direction; always on the look-out for the need to change priorities or reinvent.
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