Root Cause Analysis is an essential part of business activity. Routine analysis of business situations that did not result in the expected outcome and the development of actions to correct that result and prevent a re-occurrence of that situation is a fundamental element of certified management systems.
An effective root cause analysis process should provide a clear understanding of exactly how proposed solutions meet their goal. A structured approach is necessary in order to achieve the maximum benefits from the process.
The root cause is “the evil at the bottom” that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect chain causing the problem(s).
Some root cause analysis approaches are geared more toward identifying true root causes than others; some are more general problem-solving techniques, while others simply offer support for the core activity of root cause analysis.
The 5 Whys
One of the most common root cause analysis techniques is called the 5 Whys. The technique was originally developed by Toyota during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. The intent of the process is to ensure that the underlying causes are identified and not merely superficial symptoms. The technique involves asking “Why did this happen?” to uncover the underlying problem, then asking “Why did this happen?” until the root cause is identified. The tool has seen widespread use beyond Toyota, and is now used within Kaizen, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma.