Root Cause Analysis: Tools & Methods

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  • 0:03 Defining Root Cause Analysis
  • 0:48 Gather Data
  • 1:42 Investigate Cause
  • 3:33 Identify Root Cause
  • 3:57 Make Recommendations
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laury Hales

Laury has taught in professional adult education settings for over 10 years and is currently working on a PhD in Organizational Psychology.

Root cause analysis provides a way to determine the cause of problems within a project. In this lesson, we'll learn what root cause analysis is and review the more common tools and methods.

Defining Root Cause Analysis

You've been working on a difficult data center project for several months. You're installing a new company-wide wireless intercom system. Several weeks ago, during a system test, the data center lost power. Since then, the data center has lost power several times, and your team can't seem to figure out why it's happening. The data center director has asked you to do a root cause analysis.

A root cause analysis is a systematic process using a set of tools and specific techniques for defining the cause or causes of a problem. In short, root cause analysis is getting to the bottom of the event, what caused it, and what can be done in the future to prevent it from happening again.

A root cause analysis has 4 steps:

  • Gather data
  • Investigate cause(s)
  • Identify root cause(s)
  • Make recommendations

Gather Data

The first step of a root cause analysis is to gather data. In this step, you are not really concerned with trying to figure out the cause, only in gathering information related to the problem. Generally, you will want to interview people who are knowledgeable or have first-hand experience with the problem and review relevant documentation and any other sources of information and evidence. Good data gathering is important because finding the root cause is extremely difficult without it.

To start gathering data about the power outages, you begin by talking to other project members and technicians working in the data center. You ask questions such as what they were doing when the power outages occurred and if they noticed anything unusual in the data center before it happened.

Next, you review project documentation, particularly the risk management plan and design documents, to see if you can gain any insight to the power issues. Lastly, you review the data center operating procedures to see if an existing procedure is causing the power outages now that the new wireless intercom is in place.

Investigate Cause

The second step in a root cause analysis is to investigate the cause. During this step, you will review the data you gathered, brainstorm possible causes, and further look into each cause to see if it is actually causing the problem at hand. Specific root cause analysis tools used during this step will help investigate the cause.

After reviewing all the data you've gathered, you see a pattern in the outages. Whenever the new wireless intercom is being used and an emergency alarm sounds, there is a power outage. With this information, you bring together the team to investigate the cause.

Root Cause Analysis Tools

You begin the meeting by reviewing the specific tools your team could use to help determine what is causing the power outages. The three most common root cause analysis tools are:

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